Transgender advocacy at libraries

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: another potential pause button for parents of young children.

And that’s because our next story concerns transgender advocacy in public libraries. You may want to revisit this one later before discussing this topic with them.

Some libraries across the country have started hosting so-called drag-queen story hours. Maybe you don’t know what that is, but it’s men dressed up as sexualized women reading children’s stories aloud.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Recent story-hours even include tutorials: Men are teaching children how to apply drag-queen makeup themselves.

More and more of these events are going on. A dust-up over one in Ohio made national headlines earlier this month.

WORLD Radio correspondent Maria Baer lives nearby and so she decided to check it out.

MARIA BAER, REPORTER: Downtown Newark, Ohio, doesn’t exactly buzz with nightlife. It’s a small town, with a main thoroughfare of old brick buildings and just a few stoplights.

But on a recent Friday night, a crowd gathered outside a small art studio owned by Denison University. A single protestor stood nearby holding a sign that read “Jesus Hates Sin.”

Inside, the Newark Ohio Pride Coalition was hosting an event that included a makeup class with a local drag queen. The group originally planned to hold it at the nearby public library. But officials cancelled it amid pushback from state lawmakers.

Although coalition leaders advertised the event as open to the public, they didn’t welcome everyone.

A group of four or five adults guarded the studio entrance to prevent reporters from going inside. Organizers said they wanted to protect the privacy of young kids whose parents might not know they had come.

Tim Bussey is the associate director of the Newark Ohio Pride Coalition. He told me the event would focus on arts and crafts. It was meant for kids ages 12 to 18, though he said they weren’t checking ages at the door. Parents brought some kids young enough to be in strollers.

Bussey said the kids would first make rainbow wings to wear to the town’s Pride Festival the next day. The drag makeup tutorial would come later. But Bussey’s boss, Trisha Pound, said the art projects were just a minor part of the night.

AUDIO: Equitas Health is here, and they, this whole time have been planning on doing healthy relationships and safe sex conversations, things like that. So they’re here…

Equitas Health, according to its website, is a nonprofit that provides social programs for LGBTQ people and those at high risk for HIV and AIDS. At the Newark event they passed out buttons for the teens to wear alerting others to their preferred pronouns—his, hers, theirs.

Despite the sex ed presentation, Bussey and Pound insisted the event had nothing to do with sex.

AUDIO: The whole Drag Queen component has been just a small piece of a larger event, and so it got, there’s just a lot of misinformation and misunderstandings, and people not getting facts before reacting irrationally.

But dressing in drag almost always includes exaggeratedly provocative clothing. A man going by the name Trixie Moore provided the event’s makeup tutorial. In pictures from the event posted on Facebook, he wore a skin-tight multicolored bodysuit. A sequin patch over his chest read “Love Will Win.”

Still, Bussey and Pound bristled at continued questions about the sexual nature of the event.

BAER: Do you guys see any connection between drag and sex? POUND: Um, I’m not really sure why you’re asking questions like that…

Advocacy events involving drag queens are becoming more common, even in small towns like Newark. And they often target libraries as public spaces where children and families gather.

The trend started with a non-profit group called “Drag Queen Story Hour.” It began in San Francisco in 20-15. It now has 35 chapters in more than a dozen states. It’s hosted events in public libraries from Brooklyn to New Orleans to Evansville, Indiana. Most have stirred controversy.

The Houston Public Library System issued an apology in March after discovering one of the drag queens hosting a story hour was a convicted child molester. Library officials admitted they had not done a background check before the event.

Candi Cushman tracks social trends for Focus on the Family. She said parents should expect to see more events like the one in Newark.

CUSHMAN: Well it does seem like, you know, that this is part of a larger cultural trend that we are seeing with the celebration and promotion of transgenderism and cross-dressing behaviors to our youth. And that is happening not only in schools through sex ed and gender identity courses, but also in libraries and even in music and television.

Cushman said Christians could use the events as an opportunity to host their own: a course on Biblical sexuality, or even a kids’ Bible Story Hour.

Above all, though, she recommends Christian parents stay vigilant.

CUSHMAN: Teaching kids that are under 12 how to become a drag queen – when we’re having to explain why parents should be notified about that or involved…again why parents should be proactive and not wait for bad things to happen to talk about it as a family.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Maria Baer, reporting from Newark, Ohio.

(Mary Altaffer/AP) Lil Miss Hot Mess reads to children during a Drag Queen Story Hour at the Park Slope Branch of the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Public Library. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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