It all started with a very innocent question.
I grew up in a very white middle-class neighborhood in Houston, Texas. Spring Branch/Spring Shadows was new and up-and-coming in the 1960s. In fact, it was the number one school district in America in the early part of the 70s. I’m very appreciative and grateful that I had the opportunity to be a student there at the time. Like all neighborhoods, it had its pros and cons.
I can remember the scandalous years of ‘interracial marriage.’ We must save our white girls from black men!
I can remember ‘Concerned Citizens’ meeting in churches in the late 1970s, mobilizing to help Anita Bryant and her quest to save America from the homosexuals. Save our children from the perverts!
Oh, the silly scandals brought on by silly people.
But bad times are matched with the great times, too.
For me, I’d often sneak out of the house at night, climb onto the roof, and watch the stars… and, let my imagination run wild!
The holidays, vacations, family meals and get-togethers meant everything to me. Watching the Friday night, Saturday night or Sunday night movies on NBC, CBS or ABC were family enriching moments; with popcorn, even! The Oscars were also a major family-time that I cherished!
The newspaper reading experience (in this case, the Houston Chronicle and Houston Post), in the family room, was a time of discussing current events and socializing with siblings, without the distractions of electronics and what Google has to offer and suddenly close the conversation.
I AM SO THANKFUL WE DID NOT HAVE SOCIAL MEDIA and IPHONES TO KILL OUR FAMILY TIME.
But, as seasons change, we age, get older, we graduate from high school and we find ourselves moving on into different directions and journeys. We will have ‘matured’ into a fine, educated adult figure. That’s a given. Right?
If you lived in Spring Branch, an upstanding Christian community, you learned the importance of kindness, respect and ‘love thy neighbor’ no matter what church you attended.
You know, ‘do what Jesus would do!!’ mentality.
(Note: There were no synagogues or mosques in Spring Branch at the time)
That brings us to this specific story. Recently, on my neighborhood’s FB page, “WE GREW UP IN SPRING BRANCH,” I asked the simple question, “What happened to Drag Queen Storytelling Hour in Houston?”
Well, you would’ve thought an atom bomb had gone off. You would’ve thought that Skynet had been activated and launched. You would’ve thought the zombies in “WWZ” had officially taken over. You would’ve thought the Culture of Drag had converted everyone to lip syncing to ABBA and Madonna hits!
You get the picture.
It’s been years since I was verbally assaulted, insulted and threatened by a handful of horrible, malevolent and ignorant people. And, that’s what happened. A ‘few-few’ that chose to use God and Jesus to cover up their miserable, messed up upbringings.
Stay in California
And, those were the nice words!
They got so ravenous, that within a short time, I had to delete the question and voluntarily remove myself from the group. I probably won’t return. I don’t need to know people like that. And, they do owe me an apology for bad behavior and bullying. I don’t need to be the target of their stupidity.
How could a topic like DRAG QUEEN STORYTELLING HOUR (DQSH) create such an Armageddon-type hysteria?
This fascinated me. I wanted to know more about this novelty. Who started it and who objected to it and why?
I began to make phone calls.
During the writing of this story, I reached out to West Hollywood Public Library. They, themselves, have been targets by a number of anti-DQSH demonstrations. In short, WeHo Public Library just isn’t concerned about it. In their email reply to me, it simply stated that they weren’t giving comments right now. The librarian that I spoke to in-person, however, made it quite clear that DQSH will go on successfully, without interruption, and will continue to enrich the lives of children, as much as their parents, in the City of West Hollywood. So, the demonstrations have had no ‘power’ at West Hollywood Public Library.
The City of Houston, Texas and the Eleanor K. Freed Montrose Library/Houston Public Library, where all this backlash drama and horrorbegan, was asked to comment. That was a month ago and I have yet to hear from the powers that be. In short, they forfeited their chance and moment, at the microphone, to be heard and add to the discussion, and defend themselves.
Shame on them. Shame on them.
I contacted Tracy Shannon. When Queen Tracy speaks, people listen. Her platform, Mass Resistance/Houston, also a group of concerned Christian citizens, have mobilized against Drag Queen Storytelling Hour. The Mission? To keep the program out of all schools and libraries. Permanently.
As I spoke to Mrs. Shannon, I found her very articulate, versed and friendly. She possessed a great wit and a cool sense of humor. She also knows her rights and she intends to exercise them. And, so does Mass Resistance/Houston.
Ironically, when this story started to take root in September, I was working another story in San Francisco. It turns out that I was a mere three blocks walking distance from the Eureka Valley/Harvey Milk Public Branch/San Francisco Public Library where children’s librarian Barbara Warden works.
Queen Barbara co-created Drag Queen Storytelling Hour and was delighted to not only talk to me, but answer all my questions. So, let’s start from the beginning with Barbara (Also known as Bix!):
Waide Riddle– Just how did DQSH evolve and come into fruition?
Barbara Warden– I didn’t create Drag Queen Story Hour, but I was one of the co-creators. DQSH came about because Michelle Tea, a well-known local queer author and the founder of RADAR Productions had a baby, a little boy she named Atticus. She started thinking about creating some kind of children’s programming for queer families, and came up with the concept. She then moved to Los Angeles with her partner. Juliana Delgado Lopera was the new Creative Director of RADAR, and the organization had received a grant for a project called “Queering the Castro,” a series of events celebrating the queer history and culture of the Castro. As one of the programs, she approached me at my branch library and asked if we would be interested in hosting a Drag Queen Story Hour. I said “yes,” and we discussed a little bit about how the program would run: introduce the Drag Queen and Juliana, the Queen reads a couple of books, maybe does a song, and there is face painting. And, also cookies! The very first ever DQSH happened at the Eureka Valley/Harvey Milk Memorial Branch Libraryin the Castro, where I am the Children’s Librarian on December 12, 2015.
WR– Exactly what happens during Drag Queen Storytelling Hour?
BW– As mentioned, we introduce the Queen, who reads a couple of children’s books (I have an annotated list of over 60 titles appropriate for a DQSH program), does a song or two, and then there is face-painting for the kids and cookies!The Queen is available for photos with the attendees. It’s very sweet and very wholesome. This program has been so popular that we have had over 150 attendees on at least two occasions, in our small neighborhood branch library, and DQSH has gone viral in just a few short years. Queer families feel very valued and validated by the program, which is part of why I believe it is important.
WR– Many parents are concerned for their children’s safety around this type of event, including, perhaps, embarrassing questions. What would you say to these parents?
BW– Drag Queen Story Hour is an entirely safe event, though it can be pretty heavily attended. If your child is not comfortable in a crowd, this might not be the event for them. The only unsafe element would be from protestors; we have been fortunate not to have had protests at our local events so far. This is a good opportunity, however, to explain to children that not everyone thinks DQSH is as wonderful as we do. If parents are concerned about embarrassing questions, they could talk to library staff for some suggestions, or simply decide that this is not the event for them.
WR– Are there background checks for the readers/performers? If not, why?
BW– All of the Drag Queens who are part of SFPL’s Story Hours have worked with children, as teachers, etc. They are all certified to work with children.
WR– Texas has experienced a very negative reaction from religious and conservative groups. Tracy Shannon and Mass Resistance/Houston have shone their dislike and disapproval for DQSH. Main concern being, public funds paying for this type of children’s programming. What would you like these groups to know and understand?
BW– I’m not sure how other library systems pay for their programs, but here in San Francisco, all our DQSH programs are paid for by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, which raises money for library programming through donations. We recently received a $7,000 grant from a local design company that is specifically to be used only for DQSH programs.
WR– If the public wants to support DQSH, what do they need to do?
BW– Anyone wishing to support Drag Queen Story Hour can make donations to the various local chapters on the Drag Queen Story Hour website at https://www.dragqueenstoryhour.org. If they wish to support their local library in creating or continuing this program, they can contact their library and ask about making a donation. And if they would like to support San Francisco Public Library’s DQSH programming, they can send their donation to the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, at https://www.friendssfpl.org.
WR– Thank you, Barbara, for your time and explaining your side… Now… on to something fun… Ryan Gosling or Tom Hardy?
BW – Both.
Like Barbara, Tracy Shannon is firm in her beliefs and knows how to convey them.
Speaking to her in a 45-minute conversation via phone, I got a sense that the press and YouTube were painting, well, not the most attractive picture of a woman who just wanted to be heard with an opposing view. What do you think?
Tracy Shannon– Thank you for reaching out to me for my responses, Waide. I look forward to reading your piece on Drag Queen Story Hour when it’s published. Hey, and when you come back to the Houston area for a visit, please reach out to me and we can grab lunch.
(I’ll take that up on her!!)
Waide Riddle– Drag Queen Storytelling Hourcame to my attention in September when I was searching for info about it on FB on the neighborhood community page “We Grew Up in Spring Branch.”I was raised in the Spring Branch/Spring Shadows area of Houston, so there’s that connection.
I was shocked by the hateful, malevolent, assaulting and insulting words that were hurled at me, just because I wanted to know ‘where‘ the ‘Storytelling Hour’ had gone.
This piqued my interest and I decided to do a story on it for the NoHo Arts District News.
TS– I am sorry that you were treated in that manner for merely asking a question online. That is unacceptable.
WR– What inspired you to take a stand against Drag Queen Storytelling Hour?
TS– A woman who started Mass Resistance/Houston came to me prior to starting the organization in Houston. She asked me if I heard about DQSH. I had. She wanted to start a Bible Story Reading Time and asked if I would be able to volunteer one Tuesday during the summer month along with other volunteers. I agreed. We both worked on her application but she was told by library administration that no religion was allowed. Because of this viewpoint discrimination she wanted to go to city hall and raise the concern with our mayor and city council. So, we did and about 20 people went in all. We said we disapproved of this type of programming. Our concerns were dismissed by many on the council and we were lectured on how outdated the Bible was, asked repeatedly what we are afraid of. Members of the Mayor’s staff actually snickered and whispered as we gave statements. Granted all were not eloquent we weren’t all there to preach the Bible. A couple of pastors did go and share some scripture in their remarks. A former drag queen also went and spoke against the program. We had not protested the story-hour, yet. However, the lady who initiated all of this with me had called Mass Resistance to learn more about how to push back against such programming and the organizational director said to keep going to city hall and to go protest at the library. A local church had already been protesting as well as a handful of grandparents and parents. We joined efforts with them to oppose the drag queen story hour. Those of us opposing it felt like drag queen are not appropriate role models for children. The way we were treated by the library staff and admin and by the mayor and certain council members only further motivated everyone to protest the program. We went back to city on average once a month through March of 2019. Each time we had new revelations about the program. Prior to exposing the sex offender in the program which caused the shuttering of the program we brought a complete expose’ on the program to the council and mayor which was over 168 pages long and showed the social media of every drag queen involved in the program. We had hoped that this would illustrate why we felt the drag queens were not good role models for children. Also, included in that expose’ were numerous ways the library was mishandling the opposition to the program by violating the rights of library patrons. For example, my daughter was recording and was told she had to stop recording at a DQSH which she attended with me. I was observing and she was to write a paper for her English class arguing both sides for and against DQSH.
WR– Why are you so strongly opposed to parents taking their children to the event?
TS– As mentioned, I did go and took my daughter with me as I observed and my daughter prepared to do a paper on the subject of DQSH. This particular DQSH was in December of 2018 and was a holiday-themed Story Time. They sang a few songs and read two books, neither was the type listed in the DQSH suggested book lists that have been used at other times.
I am opposed to people taking their kids to DQSH because drag queens are adult entertainers and I believe ALL kids deserve better role models than drag queens. They are children, they can seek out adult things like drag queens when they are adults. A look at the social media of drag queens should be enough to convince most parents that this is not appropriate for children. Still, we have parents who bring their kids to drag conventions, DQSH and even some who allow their children to perform in drag shows. I disagree with those things simply because I think ALL kids, even LGBTQ youth and youth with families that may be LGBTQ deserve better. LGBTQ youth are just as intelligent as any other youth and to hold out drag queens as role models for them seem to be selling them short. Surely, the community is not short of role models for youth.
At the DQSH that I was at in December of last year, I witnessed a parent shove her three-year-old son toward a drag queen after the son ran away in fear and she yelled at him “What is wrong with you? Get over there and let me take a picture.” Children are naturally scared of things that are different. To require a child to override that natural instinct to gain acceptance from the parents or the community is a form of grooming. I personally believe learning about differences is best done in an organic way as children naturally inquire about the world around them rather than in programming.
WR– Many parents are concerned for their children’s safety at DQSH, including embarrassing questions. But, don’t you think this is a good opportunity to educate and expose children to the unique ‘diversities’ of communities and people?
TS– Kids in their target age do not get a message of love and acceptance and diversity at DQSH. They see glitter and sparkle and fun and they equate that with drag queens when that is not what drag is all about. Much of the drag culture is raunchy, hyper-sexual, immersed in kink and erotica and there is a lot of drug use mentioned in the social media of the drag queens. This is inappropriate for minors. The libraries are falsely advertising adult entertainers as safe for children and exposing them to a world they have no business being a part of. I think the best way to understand people who are different from you is to get to know people who are different than you. That happens naturally all the time and we do not need an overstated drag queen to present differences. Most of the differences we are talking about would not be discernable to young children so why are we even going there with children this young? Let’s have a story-time without the agenda to promote or endorse any lifestyle, identity or behaviors but promote kindness. I do not think these story-times present those of us with a different worldview in a positive light. We are seen as the bullies and that is how the storybooks often depict those of us who would be outside protesting the libraries.
WR– Texas Public Library made a major goof by letting a bad apple fall through the cracks that should not have been allowed to be a Storyteller. They have owned it. So, why not start over and give the library and community a second chance and apply a more comprehensive background check?
TS– We were objecting to DQSH prior to finding out the library failed to do their due diligence. The fact that there was a sex offender, or two, in the programming only illustrates how determined the staff was to have this program that they didn’t follow their own policies while executing the program. Most drag queens are not sex offenders and we still object to the drag culture being promoted to youth.
The staff who made this “goof”have not been fired. There has not been an audit of the entire library system’s children’s programming to find out just how many other programs for children included sex offenders or if the background checks have not been taking place in other programming for children. The public has a right to know these things, and to be honest, the library should have halted all children’s programming, not just the drag queen story-time once this failure came to light. Are we to believe that only drag queens can be sex offenders? We know better. The library is showcasing its own bigotry by not putting down all children’s programming until a review is done and an independent audit of their policies, programs and compliance with policies is done.
While the program was suspended in March of this year. A senior-level administrator took to Facebook to share that the program only lacked a sponsor and could come back as soon as a week after the revelation of a sex offender being part of the program. This was not in step with the public statement by the library. She deleted that message shortly after she posted it. The library said the program would be back. It has not been banned completely. So, we fully expect it to resurface and we wonder if it has been going on covertly or perhaps during this election season the mayor needs this not to be an issue. There have been drag queen story hours held in private businesses locally since the library suspended its program. We have not protested those.
WR– You spearheaded Mass Resistance/Houston. Tell us about that, and educate us on what its purpose and mission is towards DQSH. Also, your main concern being, public funds paying for this type of children’s programming should not be allowed. Period. Correct? Please explain.
TS– The spearheading of Mass Resistance/Houston was actually started by a local woman we called Granny Linda. She had tried to start a Bible Story Hour for children but was told by the staff it was not allowed. We simply started with a few women who wanted to do a story-time of our own. We decided to let city hall know our concern that other programming was not allowed and that we objected to drag queens as role models for youth. The way we were treated by some members of the council and the mayor further inspired locals and regional activists to get involved with our opposition to drag queen story hour. Having been dismissed by the bulk of the council and the mayor, we went about setting up a drag queen research team (yes, it is a thing) and we set out to show the council just what the drag culture is like and what the role models at the library do in the after-dark hours. Public funding of libraries means the whole community is made complicit in programming that is not only objectionable to most of the community but which promotes adult entertainers to youth. If we took the public funds out of it we would still object to the programming but we would have nobody to object to except a private entity holding the events possibly by withholding our business from those places. This might not matter to businesses that are situated in the gayborhood. I am sure they would be supported locally. We did ask our city council and mayor if any other venues were explored for DQSH and we got no response. The mission of Mass Resistance/Houstonis to stop drag queen story hours in our city.
WR– Drag Queen Storytelling Hour is a huge success at the Harvey Milk San Francisco Library. In fact, there have been no problems. What would you like to share with the parents that are taking their children and thoroughly enjoying it?
TS – I understand that people are taking their kids to this for the message of inclusivity and diversity. However, I would again state that children deserve better role models than drag queens and introducing children to differences organically is best. I also would say that LGBTQ youth are intelligent and worthy of the dignity and respect of any other youth and I believe it is setting the bar too low to hold drag queens out as role models to any youth given what the culture is mostly about. All youth deserve better, even LGBTQ youth. I also have observed that the parents seem to be having the most fun at these events. Perhaps organizing a night out for the adults might be an idea. My kids have a transgender parent and we never needed a drag queen to read them a story to help the kids understand their dad’s identity. Children do not have jobs and it seems that our society is giving them the job of validating adults in their various identities and orientations. As for children who feel they are LGBT, they will figure those things out without a drag queen story hour. Drag queens are not professional licensed therapists or experts in gender dysphoria and should not be the ones explaining this to children. If parents think that drag queens are the ambassadors of love, diversity, and acceptance they should have a look at the drag community’s mean girl culture and cutthroat rivalry. Drag queens do not come across as the most diverse group of people either. They are very unaccepting of those who do not think as they do. This is quite apparent by looking at their pages. So, I would advise the parents taking their children to this that drag culture doesn’t really promote what they are seeking to promote to their children.
WR – If the public wants to support Mass Resistance/Houston, what do they need to do?
WR – You’ve checked out my fan pages on FB; Ryan Gosling & Tom Hardy. Which one do you like best?
TS – Ryan Gosling… for aesthetics, primarily.
I also reached out to two very special professional female impersonators who have actually made a living from Drag and have garnered multiple entertainment awards for their talents:
Introducing Larry Edwards/Tina Turner/Hot Chocolate and Jery F. Kohl Faulkner/Tasha Kohl.
I met these two Masters of Illusions in 1981 at the iconic Houston gay dance club, The Copa Disco, at the intersection of Richmond & Kirby.
Larry and Jery are two powerhouse Drag Artists that have taken the Art of Drag to a fierce pro level that very few can attain; Example: RuPaul.
Larry Edwards puts it simple:
“The point I would like to make is not all Female Impersonators know how to carry themselves in front of children… but, if it’s done correctly, with a well-respected Drag Queen, who is cautious of her language around children… I fully support it.”
WR– Ryan Gosling or Tom Hardy?
LE– Ryan Gosling… Tom Hardy is a bit too rough around the edges for me.
Jery F. Kohl Faulkner spells it with love:
“You know…I haven’t had any personal experience with this particular thing. However, I think that anything that opens our minds and broadens our horizons is a GOODthing. I think it’s wonderful that children understand early on in life how important it is to find ourselves and utilize our creativity with abandon. To not be afraid to be DIFFERENT.
WR – Ryan Gosling or Tom Hardy?
JF – Ryan.
*Also contributing: A special ‘thank you’ goes to Frank Juarez(Library Page at Harvey Milk Public Library for being a wealth of information) and Marcus Wayne.
My personal perspective:
Hey! Everyone has an opinion and everyone should be heard. I think DQSH is a wonderful and enriching idea for children from elementary to high school. I wish I had had the program when I was in school. It would have made life a lot more fun and glamorous.
On a serious note, I will also add that I am highly disappointed with the Houston Public Library Communications Department for remaining silent when approached for comment. Your silence speaks volumes.