I have always loved the theatricality of drag queen performances and the raucous, unapologetically fabulous time they offer. I love the glorious blend of comedy, costumes, music and self-expression. I live for seeing people being free to be the most fantastic, exaggerated versions of themselves – and giving others the freedom to do the same.
Having spent the better part of my 20s and 30s living in New York, drag performances were a regular part of my cultural diet. Living in the West Village, only a few short blocks from the Stonewall Inn, LGBTQIA+ history was ever present – a constant and colourful reminder of how far we’ve come and how far we still must go.
When Sydney was honoured with hosting World Pride this year I couldn’t wait to participate in some of the events with my little family. After all, my partner and I are committed to raising our son to be inclusive and kind and to advocate for the rights of people who need it most. We also want him to grow up knowing that we will always support him no matter who he is, how he identifies or who he loves.
Evidently, not everyone feels the same way.
Just one week prior, a Drag Queen Storytime at our local library had been met with protesters brandishing signs declaring that drag queens are not for children. Encouragingly, there were also plenty of counter protesters who spread a far more welcoming message. The storytime went ahead and the children were read books such as ‘The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish’ – a book that we own and love at home.
Earlier this year, it made headlines when several US states including Alabama, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina and Texas proposed bills that would make drag performances for people under the age of 18 illegal. These lawmakers – who refuse to introduce legislation to protect children from being gunned down in their schools – are instead focused on protecting kids from the nefarious threat of individuality and freedom of expression.
And just this week, several Drag Queen Storytimes in Victoria have either been moved online or cancelled altogether as they have faced outrage and even threats of violence from right-wing detractors.
The reasons for the outcry vary. Some protesters claim that exposing children to drag culture is part of an insidious plan to groom them and make them ripe for molestation from pedophiles. Some are concerned that the events are designed to blur the lines of gender in a bid to eradicate the labels of “man” and “woman” once and for all. Some are just plain homophobic. Some don’t feel that the events are age appropriate and some, I suspect, simply have nothing better to do.
For me, personally, Drag Queen Storytime represents a chance for my son to witness bravery and joy – even if he doesn’t yet grasp what he is seeing. At the storytime we attended, we were read two books by a queen named Luna Sparks, both about feeling empowered to be who you are and to be accepting of others. I am not ashamed to admit that it brought me to tears – both because it was wonderful to see the people who came for an afternoon of innocent storytelling and because of the knowledge that there are so many people who oppose it.
What those people either fail to see or, worse, see but don’t care about is how big of a difference an event like Drag Queen Story Hour can make to so many kids. That someone could grow up feeling accepted for who they are and to know that there are people both within their community and outside of it who will support them is a powerful notion. The idea that kids can grow up learning to accept and celebrate others, no matter how they identify is equally compelling. I am not saying that Drag Queen Story Hours have the ability to single-handedly end LGBTQIA+ discrimination, but surely they can play a part.
No matter what their motivation, the protesters are all united in their claims that they are just trying to “protect children.” What they really mean is that they are trying protect their children. Because the simple fact is that in order for all children to be safe, all children need to be accepted.
How is this supposed to be the case when there are parents openly attacking and opposing the way some people live their lives? When they are publicly drawing comparisons between homosexuality and pedophilia? When they are sending the message to their children – and the world- that being anything but straight and cisgender is wrong? Is it not likely that these thoughts and opinions will be adopted by their offspring who may then perpetuate the hatred and fearmongering amongst their peers?
It is already a well reported fact that LGBTQIA+ youth face higher rates of bullying at school which, in turn, can lead to higher levels of social and mental health problems.
Surely then, it would beg consideration that the real danger here is not the Drag Queen who is encouraging kids to be accepting of everyone, but the people who are protesting them doing so.
These people don’t care about the safety of children – they care about the censorship of people who are not like them.
I may not be able to change the mind of anyone who feels Drag Queen Storytime is wrong with a single article, but I can and will continue to try to foster empathy in my son. I will continue to read him books that celebrate LGBTQIA+ stories and let him know that he will always be free to be who he wants. I will, one day, take him to my old neighbourhood in New York and teach him about the history-making movement that started there.
And, next Pride, we will return to Drag Queen Storytime to celebrate bravery and joy once more.
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