CONWAY — Next month, the Conway Public Library will be hosting Drag Queen Story Hour, which is being billed as a family-friendly event; however, some question if it's an appropriate activity for children.
The story hour will be held June 28 from 10:30-11:30 a.m. in the Ham Community Room of the library. One of the books the drag queens will read is "Red, A Crayon's Story," by Michael Hall. The plot is described online as "a blue crayon mistakenly labeled as 'red' suffers an identity crisis in this picture book by the New York Times–bestselling author."
Other books to be read by the drag queens will be chosen from a list of 10.
Library Director David Smolen has identified the readers as "Crystal" and "Mimi."
Merriam-webster.com defines a drag queen as "a usually gay man who dresses as a woman and performs as an entertainer especially to caricature stereotypically vampish women."
Such entertainers have entertained the popular vernacular via television shows such as "RuPaul's Drag Race," a competition reality show that airs on the Logo channel.
On the Conway Public Library's website, a notice promoting the event says: "Being in drag is an artistic and creative expression of oneself, and is not limited to gender or orientation.
"By crafting programs that create a joyful and engaging environment for everyone, we want to show our community that we welcome all people, from all backgrounds, and difference is not something to be feared."
After the stories are read, children will be invited to make a craft.
The story hour is part of White Mountains Pride Week, which runs June 23-29. Smolen explained that Pride Week Organizer D.J. Kramer had been to some Drag Queen Story Hours and thought it would be a good addition to the Pride Week lineup.
"If you boil the program down into a nutshell, the program is a character dressed up in a costume with makeup who is reading stories to kids with positive themes," said Smolen, who said that he asked the queens to dress modestly.
"Some of those themes are be true to yourself, inclusion, being a good friend. Those are the kind of stories we are talking about," Smolen said.
Other books that may be read at the story hour are: "Neither" by Airlie Anderson, "Worm Loves Worm" by J.J. Austrian, "Introducing Teddy" by Jessica Walton, "Jacob's New Dress" by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, "Teddy's Favorite Toy" by Christian Trimmer, "Isabella, Star of the Story" by Jennifer Fosberry, "Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress" by Christine Baldacchino, "I Like Myself" by Karen Beaumont and "10,000 Dresses" by Marcus Ewert.
The story hour likely be a topic discussed at a regularly scheduled library trustee meeting which takes place Monday at 5 p.m.
Drag Queen Story Hour is the brainchild of author Michelle Tea and her RADAR Productions. It's now a "global phenomenon," according to dragqueenstoryhour.org. The organization is based in New York City.
The Sun reached out to the organization for information about Crystal and Mimi but none was available by press time.
However, in emails and texts, Drag Queen Story Hour spokesman Jonathan Hamilt provided photos of other drag queens. He said story hours are for children 3-8 years old. He said it was started in 2015 and the New York head quarters is a 501(c)(3) non-profit.
"What drag does is point out the silliness, the thrill and the powerful feelings of questioning societal expectations," said Hamilt in an email Thursday. "Drag questions the authority of gender norms, which can be very empowering for kids, especially for kids who don’t necessarily fit into rigid or prescribed gender roles where they may frequently find themselves."
The local community in the valley, however, has had mixed reactions to the event, especially after library posted about it on its Facebook page. One person commenting was state Rep. Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro).
"Any wonder about the problems we are having in society?" asked Cordelli. "Here is a good example. Are your tax dollars paying for a library that puts on this type 'entertainment' — in an event category of 'kid friendly.' The library Board of Trustees approves?"
On Thursday, Smolen told the Sun that "zero" tax dollars are being used to pay for the event, which is all volunteer based.
In an email to the Sun, library trustee David Paige said: "What risks getting lost in the focus on the content of the program itself is the bigger picture — parents are responsible for deciding what is appropriate for their own children, not what is appropriate for the children of other parents in our community.
"Children under 10 must be accompanied in the library at all times by a responsible adult," Paige noted. "Any parent who feels this is inappropriate material should simply choose not to bring their own child."
Eaton resident John Hartman told the Sun: "This Drag Queen Story Hour for children at our publicly supported Conway library is not appropriate and will likely offend many people. Alternate sexual preference identity issues should best be discussed with children in a family environment and not be presented in a public library where unaccompanied children will likely be present. Perhaps the library should do some research before proceeding with this event, i.e. 'Houston MassResistance.'"
Hartman was referring to a news reports about how a registered sex offender read to children at a "Drag Queen Story Time" event in Houston. The Houston's library system apologized.
Hamilt said Drag Queen Story Hour and Drag Queen Story Time are unrelated. He said that local chapters of DQSH are told to follow their hosts' procedures when it comes to setting up a story time event.
"We are in no way connected to Drag Queen Story Time in Houston," said Hamilt. "In NYC, all of our queens have background checks."
Smolen also addressed concerns about the Houston incident.
"I have spoken with the folks at the Drag Queen Story Hour, and I've received assurances that our presenters are perfectly good citizens," said Smolen. "They vouch for them. That's actually more than we have ever done for any other speaker, program or presenter."
Smolen said the library has never done criminal background checks on guest presenters.
Carolyn Shannon Yule, who describes herself as Silver Lake mother of three, messaged the Sun on Facebook, saying, "When did we as a society decide that drag queens are role models for our youth?"
The Sun reached out the the Conway Police Department to see if they are gearing up for protests. Police Chief Ed Wagner said he hopes people are over "stereotypes" and there won't be a problem.
“If there is an issue down there, we will respond,” said Wagner, adding people are allowed to protest as long as they are not blocking traffic or pedestrians and are not being disorderly.
Smolen would like to have a dialogue with people like Hartman and Yule. "If you have a concern I'm begging you to call me," said Smolen.
The Conway Public Library can be reached at (603) 447-5552.