Attendance was higher than ever at the Houston Public Library’s most recent installment of Drag Queen Storytime.
About 75 parents, children, and supporters attended the monthly event at the Freed-Montrose branch of the Houston Public Library on Saturday, July 29. The program, which features drag queens reading picture books to children, has recently come under fire from right-wing conservatives.
“The controversy surrounding Drag Queen Story Hour affected our numbers in a good way,” said Trent Lira, organizer of Drag Queen Storytime. “So many people came out in support because they know how valuable this program is.”
The reading was hosted by Lira and his Space Kiddettes bandmate Devin Will. Houston drag performers Beck and Carmina read Curtis Manley’s The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read and Diana Murray’s Summer Color!
Mia Matsumiya said she brought her 2-year-old to Drag Queen Storytime to teach her about inclusivity.
“I want my daughter to grow up knowing that gender is not binary,” Matsumiya said. “People of any gender can present themselves however they feel comfortable. I think that should be accepted. I want my daughter to accept it as well.”
Matsumiya and her daughter have attended drag queen storytimes in public libraries in three U.S. cities. Matsumiya believes attacks on the events are fueled by hate.
“These storytimes aren’t harmful; they’re innocent and educational,” Matsumiya said. “Along with learning how to read, my daughter is learning about different types of people and fashion. Trying to take that away from kids is anti-progressive.”
Controversy over the Houston Public Library’s Drag Queen Storytime program began after KHOU-TV highlighted a July 9 installment at the Heights branch, featuring drag queen Blackberri.
City Councilman Michael Kubosh complained about Drag Queen Storytime during the council’s regular meeting on July 17.
Then, the anti-LGBTQ Houston-Area Pastor Council, which played a major role in the 2015 campaign to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), sent its supporters an email attacking the event.
Finally, anti-LGBTQ activist Steve Hotze, founder of the Conservative Republicans of Texas, asked his supporters to contact City Council members to demand that they ban Drag Queen Storytime.
On July 27, Kubosh debated Houston GLBT Political Caucus president Mike Webb about Drag Queen Storytime on the local Fox affiliate, KRIV-TV Channel 26.
“The library is a taxpayer-funded government building. I find it offensive that we are not able to promote Christ in one of these facilities, but we can promote the acceptance of drag,” Kubosh said on The Isaiah Factor.
After host Isaiah Carey pointed out that Drag Queen Storytime receives no taxpayer funding, Kubosh pointed to costs associated with air-conditioning and library staff.
Webb noted that Drag Queen Storytime is voluntary and parents bring their children to it because they believe it is valuable for their educations.
“Why wouldn’t you want to make reading more entertaining, educational, more culturally inclusive and safe for all of us? We live in the most diverse city in America. That should be celebrated in all levels of our government, including in our public libraries,” Webb said.
Drag Queen Story Hour was originally created by Michelle Tea and RADAR Productions in San Francisco to give children queer role models. The organization currently has 27 chapters across the globe, according to its website.
The Houston Public Library held its first Drag Queen Storytime, featuring Blackberri, last September in Montrose, Houston’s gayborhood. The goal of the event is to embrace the community that the library serves, said Sally Swanson, executive director of the Houston Public Library Foundation.
“Every neighborhood library offers programs specifically for their communities,” Swanson said. “Meeting the needs of these diverse communities is an important part of our mission.”
Carmina has read at various Drag Queen Storytimes, including some in Galveston.
“It’s so important that children be introduced to queer culture,” Carmina said. “So many kids need this because it shows them that they belong somewhere. Drag Queen Story Hour is a great place to do that. It’s fun, safe, and family-friendly.”
Though storytimes at the Houston Public Library are targeted toward children 10 months to 10 years old, Carmina believes they are just as valuable for preteens.
“Some middle-schoolers attend these events because it’s the only place that they can be around drag queens,” Carmina said. “Shows like Rupaul’s Drag Race have popularized the art of drag, and kids are interested. Since they’re not old enough to go out yet, this is an age-appropriate event where they can come out and see us.”
Lira and Will proposed the idea for a Drag Queen Storytime to the Houston Public Library after they noticed similar programs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York.
Prior to every Houston Public Library Drag Queen Storytime, posters are put up so that parents are aware that the event will feature drag queens.
“I think the groups attacking us are misinformed about what we do here,” Will said. “Drag Queen Story Hour is no different than any other story time besides the fact that a drag queen reads instead of a librarian. We also approach drag with normalcy. No one explains what it is; we just read books and sing songs together.”
Drag Queen Storytime at the Heights Library was created after families from the area who traveled to Montrose wanted the event in their own community. Lira and Will said that they are in the process of expanding Drag Queen Storytime.
The Freed-Montrose Library will host its one-year anniversary Drag Queen Storytime on September 29. For a full schedule of upcoming Drag Queen Storytime events, go here.
Watch Kubosh and Webb on The Isaiah Factor below.