Harmonica Sunbeam reading at Brookfield Place. Photo: Drag Story Hour NYC

Had I not been on a hiatus from Instagram, I might have been more prepared for what I experienced on February 24 outside of the Queens Public Library — Jackson Heights location. My friends posted about attending a counter-protest in support of Drag Story Hour in New York City libraries. I had been in touch with people from the library and was hoping to catch parents and children on their way in and out of the building to ask them why they attend Drag Story Hour.

Listen to part I, Why NYC kids need storytellers in drag. 

Listen to part II, How New York City fights the Proud Boys: by being prouder

As I turned onto 37th Avenue, I began to understand why my contacts at the library didn’t want to allow anyone without children to enter the library. I was also able to see where the loud music and chanting was coming from that I had heard while walking on 82nd Street. A dozen police officers stood around a barricade blocking the side street from traffic. On the side of the street across from the library’s entrance, there was a single protester with a large rainbow flag with the words “Trump pride” printed in all caps. His face was red from some combination of the cold February air and his attempts to scream loud enough to be heard over the sounds coming from the other side of the street.

Drag Story Hour supporters outside the 53rd Street library branch. Photo: Sam Zachar

The scene right outside of the library’s entrance was one that I can best describe as joyfully energetic. Dozens of Drag Story Hour supporters lined the barricade facing the lone protester across the street. Large speakers were blasting classic disco music, while supporters danced, chanted and sang. Although I only had the chance to speak to one mother and her two young children about their support for Drag Story Hour, my experience that day provided me with the essential context I needed to approach this story.

In March, I was able to attend a Drag Story Hour at Brooklyn Public Library. I sat in the main library’s atrium as I waited for the event to start. The space was buzzing with activity. There were students in Zoom classes; friends catching up over coffee or tea from the library’s cafe; people experiencing homelessness using the library’s facilities; and caregivers with children who were coloring, reading and playing.

Reverend Yolanda reads at a Drag Story Hour. Photo: Reverend Yolanda

When I entered the space where Drag Story Hour was being held, I passed by a few police officers standing near the room’s entrance. The tension that the officers’ presence brought to the space dissipated as parents, caregivers and children trickled in. New York City Council Member Crystal Hudson was in attendance and introduced the event. The storyteller, Reverend Yolanda, filled the following 30 minutes with a lighthearted and lively energy that kept all of the audience members, children and adults alike, engaged and smiling. As the event came to an end, the room erupted with cheers and applause.

I spoke with Lauraberth Lima, a professor of museum studies living in Jackson Heights with their wife and 9-month-old Baldwin, over Zoom a couple weeks later. They told me, “Sometimes programmatic opportunities can feel like we’re navigating systems and spaces that are not designed for us and don’t include us. Are we going to be misgendered in this space? Are we going to be discriminated against in this space?… It makes [us] feel icky. But when we go to Drag Story Hour we know that people are going to respect our pronouns… and not question our family-making… It’s a safe space designed for us and by us.” 

Drag Story Hour is not only a fun and engaging event that promotes literacy and acceptance to audiences of all ages. It’s also one of only a few events that welcomes and celebrates families and individuals who may not feel respected or safe in largely cisgender and heterosexual spaces.

Reverend Yolanda, a local DSH performer. Photo: Reverend Yolanda

In the process of reporting this story, I spoke with families, event organizers, drag performers, and an elected city official about why it is imperative for our communities to ensure the continued existence of Drag Story Hour. Listen to our two-part series on the Epicenter-NYC podcast to hear more from community members about the importance of these events and what you can do to support Drag Story Hour NYC.

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