Since its creation in 2015, Drag Queen Storytime or Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH), as the official organization calls it, has gained as much negative attention as it has positive among library patrons and community members. In 2019, 30 challenges were reported to the OIF for Drag Queen Storytimes and other Pride related events. Actions ranging from contacting city or county representatives and special town hall meetings to protests and lawsuits have been taking place across the countries as attempts to stop these events from happening. In early 2020, Missouri Lawmaker Ben Baker sponsored a bill that would fine or jail library workers who displayed “age-inappropriate materials” in their library. Baker stated that his objection to Drag Queen Storytimes happening across Missouri was the reason for the creation of the bill. Because of its broad wording that could be used to censor library materials, the bill did not gain much support among other state representatives and did not become law. It has gotten to the point that Drag Queen Storytimes are ubiquitous with controversy and that almost any library that is planning to host this type of event is prepared for pushback. The fact that ALA has put together a resource page for librarians and library staff specifically about Drag Queen Storytime and dealing with possible challenges speaks volumes about how prevalent challenges to these types of events are.
For many libraries around the country this summer meant a return to in-person programming, including Drag Queen Storytime, which also meant that the opposition to Drag Queen Storytime returned in full force. In Norwood, Massachusetts citizens opposed to the Story Hour with Drag Kings, Queens & Friends event hosted by Morrill Memorial Library gathered in the town commons with signs that expressed their displeasure with the event. Soon after the first group of demonstrators arrived, people in support of the library’s program gathered in the town commons with pride flags and other signage celebrating inclusivity and the queer community. In West Warwick, Rhode Island, the public library’s Drag Storytime also led to two groups of demonstrators, both in favor of and against the event, but this time at the library on the day of the event. Members of the local catholic church gathered outside the library with signs, a banner, and rosaries to pray and express their opposition to the event, while members of the organization Parasol Patrol stood around the entrance to the library with rainbow colored umbrellas in order to shield children attending the event from the protestors present. The Parasol Patrol does not engage with the protesters, they simply act as a barrier between them and the youth attending these events so that they can be surrounded by love and support. While both the events described above were still held despite controversy, in East Derry, New Hampshire Taylor Library cancelled their Drag Storytime and moved the event to a private venue after opposition to the event sprang up on social media. The director of the library made a statement online that she had planned the event without consulting the library staff or the trustees and that she took full responsibility for the decision to host the event. The lack of communication with the trustees and other decision makers in Derry seemed to be the main point of contention for those who opposed the event.
While these programs tend to draw in big crowds because they are fun, they also have educational benefits as well. The Drag Queen Story Hour organization states on their website that they, “envision a world where kids can learn from LGBTQ+ herstories and experiences to love themselves, celebrate the fabulous diversity in their communities, and stand up for what they believe in and each other.” But the benefits go beyond teaching children about the diversity of sexuality and gender expression that exists in the world. Lil Miss Hot Mess, a drag performer and Phd student at NYU, explores in their paper: Drag pedagogy: The playful practice of queer imagination in early childhood the idea that Drag Queen Storytime has it’s own pedagogical framework that focuses on imaginative play and teaches children “strategic defiance” by not conforming to the hierarchical learning structure that children are used to seeing in the classroom. They argue that educators can include aspects of drag pedagogy into their own practice without having to put on a Drag Queen Storytime or do drag themselves, like using humor in the classroom. Drag Queen Storytimes are often wildly successful programs with both entertainment and educational appeal, so love it or hate it, it seems like Drag Queen Storytime is here to stay.
The ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) encourages everyone to report any and all instances of censorship and challenges to materials, online resources (including databases), programs, speakers, displays, reading lists, and author visits. No matter is too insignificant. You can report online by going to ala.org/challengereporting.
Tayla Cardillo is the Branch Librarian of the Oak Lawn Branch Library in Cranston, RI. Before her current position she was a YA librarian. She completed her MLIS at the University of Rhode Island and her B.A. in English at Rhode Island College. Tayla has known that she wanted to be a librarian since she was 17 years old. When not doing library wizardry, she enjoys playing tabletop games and cosplaying.