Drag Queens Are Hosting Story Hours Across the Country to Teach Kids Acceptance & We Say YAS to That
At storytelling events around the country, the organization is helping kids develop empathy, learn about gender diversity and difference, and tap into their own creativity.
Weekend afternoons were made for storytime at the local library. Really, it's the perfect activity anytime you want to get the kids out and have a fun, educational experience. But in 2015, a new twist on library storytime was born. The brainchild of Michelle Tea and RADAR Productions, the first Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) was held in San Francisco. And what began as drag queens reading stories to children is now a global phenomenon.
"DQSH now offers literary and creative programming for kids and teens of all ages led by drag queens, kings, and creatures all over the world," says Jonathan Hamilt, global programming director of Drag Queen Story Hour. "DQSH is a global network of local organizations—almost 50 and counting—each of which is independently managed and funded."
The organization was founded on the principles that "people of all ages should be free to express ourselves, and that civic institutions like libraries, schools, and other community spaces should welcome the diversity that exists around us, even in the places where we least expect it," Hamilt notes. "For us, children’s literature can be both a mirror and a window: Books often help us see our own experiences reflected back to us and can also offer opportunities for new perspectives and adventures."
By attending a DQSH, kids can also develop empathy, learn about gender diversity and difference, and tap into their own creativity, Hamilt says. They'll also be introduced to parts of LGBTQ history and culture in age-appropriate settings.
"Drag points out the silliness, the thrill, and the powerful feelings of challenging societal expectations," he explains. "Drag questions the authority of gender norms, which can be very empowering, especially for kids who don’t necessarily fit into rigid or prescribed gender roles where they may frequently find themselves."
Hamilt says drag offers kids an opportunity to "play and experiment with different forms of masculinity and femininity." After all, "Many kids express gender fluidity in small ways, whether that means having a favorite color, book, toy, or hobby that defies expectations—until they’re told by adults or other kids that what they like is only for girls and boys," he says. "Some kids and adults feel that their gender identity doesn’t match the one they were assigned at birth—and may identify as transgender or non-binary."
And DQSH is a hit with most kids who "love drag queens’ over-the-top fashion and dramatic personalities, which makes us seem like superheroes or princesses come to life," he notes.
When it comes to LGBTQ kids and teens who might feel like they aren't being represented in the broader culture, "DQSH can also be life-changing and ultimately life-saving," Hamilt points out. "LGBTQ-positive programs like DQSH are a vital part of making the world a safe and affirming place for all children. LGBTQ children need role models, and all children should learn to embrace gender diversity and learn empathy."
Given all of the aspects, there are to love about the organization and its mission, parents all over the country are raving about their kids' experiences with DQSH.
Billie Larson Shipley, a mom of two, took her children to a DQSH at their local library in Playa Vista, California. "Pushing our kids to be open and accepting is incredibly important to us, and this was an opportunity for them to be introduced to a concept that they wouldn’t normally experience," she shares. "They had a glitter wand-making area when the kids arrived and Pickle, our local drag queen, read our favorite book: Feminist Baby, among others. It’s such a great program for parents and caregivers to push the norm of what our kids experience day-to-day."
Janine Coyler was thrilled that her daughters' au pair brought them to a local DQSH in Maplewood, New Jersey. "We love any type of opportunity to introduce our kids to different people and experiences," Coyler notes. "The performative aspect of drag really lends itself to storytime. My kids loved the sparkly dress the performer wore and how fun she made the reading!"
Hamilt observes that many of the parents who bring their families to DQSH "do so because they would like their children to learn to love and accept themselves, and other people, as they are. There is a great need for more LGBTQ+ programming for families, and DQSH brings the larger community together to celebrate and lift each other up."
Through their many local community gatherings, DQSH hopes to create positive, lasting change on a grand scale. Hamilt explains, "Ultimately, we envision a world based on equality, justice, and respect for all people, and we believe that both the stories and storytellers of DQSH can help build empathy, reduce bullying, and inspire lifelong creativity."