Last month, over 20 families from across the Greater Houston area arrived at the Freed-Montrose Library anticipating Drag Queen Storytime, but many were sent away when the building reached maximum capacity.
At least 40 children and their guardians were unable to attend the library’s Dec. 29 event, which featured drag queens singing songs and reading picture books, because of the fire marshal’s occupancy code. Fortunately, these folks now have a better chance at participating in this month’s program.
Drag Queen Storytime, a free event that occurs once a month at a Houston Public Library (HPL) branch located in Houston’s gayborhood, will include a second installment beginning Saturday, Jan. 26, according to Elizabeth Sargent, HPL’s assistant director of customer experience.
“Drag Queen Storytime keeps growing in popularity, and unfortunately in December that meant there was not enough space for everyone who wanted to attend,” Sargent says. “We are also aware that crowded rooms can impact children who are differently abled. We are hoping that a second storytime will help accommodate everyone.”
The January storytimes, which begin at 2 p.m. and 2:45 p.m., will comfortably seat 80 people at each reading. Library workers will instill a ticketing policy to assign folks a show time depending on when they arrived.
While waiting for the event to begin, families can partake in passive programming. Toys, coloring sheets, and a variety of crafts will be available outside of the library’s storytime room as soon as the building opens at 1 p.m.
Drag Queen Storytime organizers Trent Lira and Devin Will, who launched the HPL program in September 2017, have been working on expanding it for several months.
“We started to talk about expanding in July, when the storytime’s popularity really started to increase,” Lira says. “Devin and I spoke with library specialists about the best options for the safety and enjoyment of our guests. We hope this new format alleviates most of the crowd blockage that we’ve been seeing.”
This month’s featured Drag Queen Storytime book is The Armadillo’s Dream, a tale about a Houston armadillo named Sandy who dreams of singing, authored by the Houston Grand Opera’s Dennis ArrowSmith. Arrowsmith will be on site to speak and sign copies of his picture book.
“We’re very excited about our expansion,” Will says. “We also have several new plans for Drag Queen Storytime throughout the year.”
As usual, Drag Queen Storytime protesters, who filed a lawsuit against mayor Sylvester Turner and HPL’s Rhea Lawson for supporting the program, plan to stand outside of the library while the event takes place. To combat this, several LGBTQ-affirming groups will help guide families safely into the building.
When Michelle Aiello, an LGBTQ activist and Houston educator, learned that protesters with anti-LGBTQ signs stationed themselves outside of the Freed-Montrose Library during Drag Queen Storytime, she created a Facebook event in December inviting supporters to greet attendees at the library.
Aiello’s “Save Drag Queen Storytime” group, which featured members from several activist organizations in Houston, joined the Space City Sisters in a counterprotest for the Dec. 29 storytime. About 120 folks went to the library in support of Drag Queen Storytime, outnumbering the 20 who showed up to protest it.
“This month, we plan to silence the hateful rhetoric completely,” Aiello says. “The protests usually cause a lot of noise. This doesn’t reflect what is happening inside. We want to respect the families who just want to attend the program.”
To block out protesters on Jan. 26, Aiello’s group has created a 150-foot rainbow barricade made out of vinyl to wrap around the library. Members from the Houston Pride Band and the Houston Pride Chorus will be in attendance to play family-friendly tunes for visitors. Several Houston interfaith leaders will also be on site to chat with folks and share their support for Drag Queen Storytime.
“We just want to create a safe passageway for children and their families so they don’t hear or see anything that might discourage them from attending the program,” Aiello says. “I think this is going to be our best Save Drag Queen Storytime yet.”