Children gather round, sitting on the floor with their legs crossed. Eyes are locked on a drag queen as they listen intently to a story of magic and adventure. This is the scene brought to libraries across the country through the initiative “Drag Queen Story Hour” (DQSH).
Drag queens are reading stories to children in libraries, schools, and bookstores thanks to author Michelle Tea and her nonprofit RADAR productions. DQSH spreads the message of love and acceptance by capturing “the imagination and play of the gender-fluidity of childhood,” while giving kids the freedom to envision a world where they can be who they are, according to their website.
The program aims to give children “glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models … who defy rigid gender restrictions.”
DQSH came to Atlanta last year at the Ponce de Leon branch of the Atlantic Fulton Public Library System (AFPLS). In late September of 2017, local drag queen Miss Terra Cotta Sugarbaker — AKA Steven Igarashi-Bell — read to the children of Atlanta.
Igarashi-Bell has done drag for 20 years and describes himself as a “cause” queen who uses his performance to support charitable events, like DQSH. The drag queen said the event last year was “hugely successful.”
“We received hundreds of emails, phone calls, and personal messages from families, parents, and community members who were very excited to see this event happen,” he told the Georgia Voice. The Ponce branch went on to host three more DQSHs in December, March, and July.
Despite its success, the event was not well-received by everyone. MassResistance, a “pro-family” organization, was determined to keep the event out of Atlanta. According to a story posted on their website, activists at MassResistance were told by the library that another DQSH event was planned on September 30 of this year. After protest from the organization, the event was reportedly “cancelled.”
Their protests allegedly consisted of flyers which referred to the event as “child abuse” and numerous phone calls and emails to the library demanding the supposed event’s cancellation. However, AFPLS upheld their support of the story time and said that no plans were cancelled.
“The Ponce Library community loves the program and has supported it since its inception,” Claudia Strange, the marketing and public relations manager at AFPLS, told the Georgia Voice. “We did not have any plans to host a DQSH on September 30 of this year,” she added. “We have not cancelled any programs since we began in 2017.” Strange was responsible for originally bringing the event to the library.
Although MassResistance — which the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies an anti-LGBTQ hate group — referred to the event as “one of the latest well-organized efforts of the radical LGBT movement to indoctrinate young children,” Igarashi-Bell hesitated to even attach the LGBTQ label to DQSH.
“The story time isn’t about me or my sexuality. The importance of DQSH to me is in encouraging children to develop a love of books and reading,” he said, likening the creative solace of books to drag. “I hope that children and their parents will take away that the library is a safe space,” he added. “It’s a place to educate yourself and expose yourself to new things, without fear of judgment or ridicule.”
The drag queen recognized the need for more safe spaces among the LGBTQ community. He hopes DQSH can offer just that. Strange assured Georgia Voice that the library would never be dissuaded from hosting an event like DQSH because of protests. They plan to upkeep the story times.
“We have heard loud and clear from our patrons at the Ponce Library that they want and support this program,” she told Georgia Voice. “We fully expect to continue with this program for as long as there is interest in the event.”
The AFPLS made two appearances at this year’s Pride festival. The library had a booth and sponsored a DQSH, where Miss Terra Cotta Sugarbaker read to kids at the festival’s Family Fun Zone.