Greetings Queer Worcester [and beyond] – I want to talk about something that shouldn’t even be up for debate: drag story time events. As you’ve probably heard, such events feature drag performers reading inclusive, affirming children’s books to kids. It’s a fun and positive way to introduce children to diversity, inclusivity, and acceptance. But unfortunately, right-wing attacks on these events have been increasing. While these events certainly deliver laughs and lighthearted fun, they’re also important opportunities for fostering feelings of belonging amongst queer youth and families. Full disclosure – I serve on the board of the queer-youth-serving organization, Love Your Labels, and we run a popular drag story time event here in Worcester in partnership with Redemption Rock Brewing Co.
Let me be frank: drag story time events are totally harmless to children. In fact, they’re beneficial. According to research, exposing children to diverse identities from an early age can have a positive impact on their attitudes towards different groups, and can even reduce prejudice later in life. Drag story time events help to normalize diverse identities, and make it clear that it’s okay to be one’s authentic self. Plus, they’re just fun! Who doesn’t love a cute story and a few sparkles? Every single drag story time I’ve attended has been filled with nothing but pure joy and family fun.
Unsurprisingly, some right-wing politicians and groups have taken issue with drag story time events. Legislation to ban or restrict them has been introduced in at least eight states, with more bills being drafted in other states (2). These attacks are super harmful because they perpetuate the bigoted belief that exposing kids to LGBTQ+ identities is inappropriate. They send the message that queer identity is something to be ashamed of, hidden away, and kept from children. What message does this send to the young queer kid facing bullying at school? Or a child of gay parents? Attacks on these story times only increase shame and embolden bullies.
These attacks have a direct impact on the lives of LGBTQ+ youth. Queer kids already face higher rates of bullying, harassment, and discrimination, and these attacks on drag story time events only add to that. They create a hostile environment that can make queer youth feel unsafe and unwelcome. According to the Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth, laws like these can increase feelings of isolation and decrease a young person’s sense of self-worth.
The fact is, drag story time events are an exercise of artistic and creative expression that should be free from government suppression. They are not sexualized, nor are they meant to be. The performers are simply reading books and having fun with the kids. As New York drag performer Lady Bunny pointed out, parents of schoolchildren who don’t like it don’t have to attend them.
The recent scourge of attacks on drag story time events are not only misguided, but they are also harmful. They perpetuate bigoted beliefs, create a hostile environment for queer youth, and attempt to erase queer identity. Locally, we need to decide what kind of a community we want to be – one that celebrates and uplifts people of all identities, or one that seeks to shame and marginalize those who may not ascribe to “traditional” forms of gender expression. Let’s continue to promote events like drag story time, stand up against hateful rhetoric wherever we see it, and encourage our local politicians to do the same. Let’s help create a world where everyone can be themselves without fear of discrimination or hatred.