LGBTQ Pride Month

Drag Queens Are Teaching Kids The Importance Of Living Their Own Story One Book At A Time

During 'Drag Queen Story Hour' kids and drag queens read, sing, dance and learn it's OK to be different.

On a rainy Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn, about a dozen families are gathered in the meeting room of the Cortelyou branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Most parents are seated in plastic chairs around the perimeter; while the kids are cross-legged on a nylon mat on the floor printed with numbers and letters of the alphabet. There's the occasional greeting and bit of small talk until, a little after 2:30 p.m., the star of the show arrives.

Ms. B is dressed in a gold jumpsuit with a pattern reminiscent of scales — an ode, she says, to the Mermaid Parade happening that weekend at nearby Coney Island. Her lipstick matches the jumpsuit, which Ms. B has paired with knee-high black suede boots. 

As she greets the small group assembled before her and takes a seat, one of the kids on the mat responds with an exclamation.

"You're a boy!" a girl in a black striped shirt announces.

"Honey, I'm a drag queen," Ms. B says.

Ms. B is part of a city-wide initiative called Drag Queen Story Hour in which drag queens read, sing and dance with kids at branches of the public libraries across Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. Started in San Francisco, Rachel Aimee brought the program to New York last August after reading about it on Facebook. 

"I hope that we can give LGBT kids from a young age the ability to really feel affirmed and confident in themselves," Aimee told A Plus. "And for others who don't come from the LGBT community, to learn empathy."

Aimee, a freelance copywriter by day, is hoping to convert Drag Queen Story Hour into a nonprofit in New York. In the less than a year that she has been running the program, she has seen it expand to two events a month with the public libraries and says schools have also expressed interest in bringing the program to their students.  

Merrie Cherry reads at the Brooklyn Public Library's Park Slope branch. Drag Queen Story Hou.
Merrie Cherry reads at the Brooklyn Public Library's Park Slope branch. Drag Queen Story Hou.

This is Ms. B's second story hour. She says she's still working on gauging the kids' attention spans and pauses for a verse of "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star" in between readings of Tango Makes Three and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. For Ms. B, Drag Queen Story Hour is about speaking to what will be the next generation of activists and influencers and insuring that they know they are free to be who they are.

"My job as a drag queen isn't just to entertain but to change things and move them forward," she told A Plus.

Before breaking up so each child can make his or her own paper crown (Ms. B did promise that everyone would leave a queen), Ms. B reads from It's Okay To Be Different, a book that couldn't sum up more perfectly what organizers are hoping Drag Queen Story Hour will teach the kids. 

"I was brought up in an church, and if these ideas were in the mainstream when I was younger, if I was able to have that impact when I was in high school, maybe the bullying would have hurt less," she said. 

While passing around crayons and stickers, Ms. B stops to talk with every family. She poses for photos and stops to ask all the kids' names. She says some of the parents now follow her on Instagram and have asked if she can make appearances at other events. When a family shows up after the program is scheduled to be over and is disappointed to learn they missed it, Ms. B offers to read them a story anyway.

"To me, this isn't a paycheck," she said. "It's about getting involved in the community." 

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