Drag Story Hour: The Revolutionary Origin and Current Challenges

Want to learn more about the creation of Drag Story Hour? Well you’re in luck because we have it all here and what the future holds for DSH shows now.

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Kid reading book surrounded by other books with drag performers on them

Wearing elaborate, multicolored outfits and leading sing-alongs, aren’t the only arts that drag performers engage in. People in drag also host storytime events at schools, libraries, and bookstores where they read books aloud to children. These events, called Drag Story Hours (DSH), occur worldwide and hold a special place in the hearts of many communities. The Drag Story Hour program is ongoing and has a history just as beautiful as its performers.

Trigger warning: some topics discussed in the following article may be upsetting, especially to those who identify as LGBTQ+, and are not suitable for all audiences.

The Origin and Purpose of Drag Story Hour

The DSH program was established in San Francisco, California, by author and activist Michelle Tea, Colombian writer Julian Delgado Lopera, and others in 2015. Michelle Tea was inspired to establish DSH when she, a mother and queer woman, could not find any LGBTQ+ books for children. Working with other members of the queer community, Tea held the first DSH at the Harvey Milk Memorial Branch Library. Drag performer Per Sia read stories aloud to children at the library, and there were many LGBTQ+ parents and their children in attendance. Drag Story Hour may have had a humble beginning and remained community-wide in the San Francisco area, but soon, DSH’s popularity exploded, and it became a worldwide phenomenon.

Drag queen reading Pride book to children and families outdoors at a Drag Story Hour event

Drag Story Hour aims to celebrate reading for children by combining storytelling with the beauty of drag. The intention of the drag performers and hosts of DSH is to inspire young people to create positive atmospheres and changes in their communities. The DSH motto is:

“We envision a world where kids can learn from LGBTQ+ stories and experiences to love themselves, celebrate the fabulous diversity in their communities, and stand up for what they believe in and each other.”

Current Threats to DSH and the Drag Community

In the United States, there have been numerous attacks and threats of violence against drag performers, especially concerning the attendance of children at drag shows. Several states have proposed or passed legislation in the past year that restricts drag performances and prohibits the attendance of children and minors at drag shows.

Tennessee was the first state to enact such legislation, and repeat violators of this law can be charged with a felony. The proponents of these laws are concerned that drag shows contain sexually explicit content that children should not be exposed to. However, those against restrictive laws believe that bill proponents are exaggerating drag as a sexual and harmful practice when it is, in fact, not, and drag actually promotes self-acceptance and celebrates diverse identities.

Drag queen performing in butterfly outfit

One of the most recent outbreaks of violence related to Drag Story Hours was earlier this year on March 19th in New York City. The DSH event was organized by New York’s Attorney General Letitia James and took place outside the LGBTQ Community Center in West Village. Protesters against DSH gathered during the New York City Drag Story Hour and an outbreak of violence occurred, injuring one protester and one counterprotester. Drag performers and the LGBTQ community at large have seen a concerning increase in violence against them and harmful restrictions on their rights. There are nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ+ rights bills currently being presented in the United States as of now.

Drag Story Hour Protection: “Shields Up!”

While the rampant violence against and criticism of DSH and the wider LGBTQ+ community is heartbreaking, protective measures are being taken to ensure the safety of drag performers. The city of San Francisco has announced that it will soon implement the “Shields Up!” program, which is a safety marshal system designed to protect performers and audience members at drag events, including DSH. Volunteers, collectively called “the Royal Guard,” will escort drag performers to and from events and provide security inside and outside venues during the shows. “Shields Up!” will also practice active shooter drills and teach both drag performers and their Royal Guard de-escalation techniques on how to prevent violence.

Drag queen wearing rainbow dress, standing against background that says "Capital Pride 2023" and under that, "Peace Love Revolution"

How You Can Help

In the face of such intense violence and hatred, a bleak mindset can settle in and spread fear throughout communities. However, it is possible for you and everyone else to help defend drag performers and their rights. LinkTree has recently established a fundraiser on their website for Drag Story Hour and other drag programs that will extend to the end of this year. So far, LinkTree has donated $25,000 directly to DSH. And if you are not able to donate money, you can still have a positive impact on your community by attending your local DSH chapter or just spreading the love in whatever way you can.

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