Why Drag Storytime Belongs in Public Libraries

Blog post by Cindy Chadwick, County Librarian

Show your support by attending our upcoming Drag Storytime at San Lorenzo Library on February 18, 2023

As drag storytimes have received heightened media attention over the last year, my team and I have fielded the question: Why does drag storytime belong in public libraries? For the most part, this is an honest question asked by people genuinely seeking to understand. I’ve learned that a lot of folks don’t initially get the connection between public libraries and drag. 

There is no confusion about storytime or its place in early literacy, childhood education, and family joy. Storytime has been, and likely will always be, a library staple consisting of picture books, songs, felt boards, and learning games. The question about drag storytime is specific to the LGBTQ+ community, but also to what we mean by ‘public’ library and the equity work we are dedicated to embodying.

On one level, drag storytime is a visible place of inclusion for LGBTQ+ families. Hosting drag storytime says: LGBTQ+ family belongs in the library, LGBTQ+ staff belong in libraries, and we will have books of all kinds about LGBTQ+ culture and history. Librarians want everyone to feel that the library is their space—because it is. Libraries are one of the few institutions that belong to all of us, equally. As a library, it is our responsibility to invite, celebrate, and take action to explicitly include marginalized communities. On the most visible level, drag storytime is an act of resilient joy, of public celebration, a rainbow welcome path through the stacks.

A great resource for learning more is the website (and social media) of the non-profit group, Drag Story Hour (www.dragstoryhour.org). Their mission statement explains that “Drag Story Hour celebrates reading through the glamorous art of drag. Our chapter network creates diverse, accessible, and culturally-inclusive family programming where kids can express their authentic selves and become bright lights of change in their communities.”   

The art of drag has a long and diverse herstory; as RuPaul famously put it, “We‘re all born naked. The rest is drag.” Drag is a flexible and multi-faceted art form. Art pushes boundaries, it makes people think, it allows people freedom of expression and creativity, and it is at the heart of storytelling -- all elements that drag kings and queens provide to their audiences. 

As a flexible art form, drag can be much more than a performance designed for adult audiences, which is what comes to mind for many people. Drag storytime is tailored to the age of attendees (children) and to the performance space (a public library). Nothing age-inappropriate happens. Additionally, drag storytime performers are experienced with early literacy concepts and are well versed in presenting age-appropriate material to children in a library setting. 

Drag storytime belongs in libraries as an invitation, a reflection, a celebration, and an honoring. In addition to being an art form, drag is a beautiful and fierce act of resistance and resilience, in the face of very real potential dangers. On June 11, 2022, our San Lorenzo Library hosted a drag storytime as part of our annual Pride Month programming. As the event began, members of a local chapter of the Proud Boys entered the library, verbally accosted our drag queen performer, Panda Dulce, filmed LGBTQ+ families and allies present, and spewed homophobic rhetoric. I was present at that storytime and I was shocked by the protestors’ display of hate. 

Drag storytime can be important in starting conversations at a community level. Productive conversations about gender and family can be sparked, as well as what it means to be a marginalized community. We believe it’s essential that our communities find ways to have these conversations and connect, especially when our opinions, beliefs and experiences differ. The power of this connection was evident in San Lorenzo as the families came back when it was safe and Panda Dulce finished the storytime. Panda Dulce also spoke bravely and publicly about the experience afterward. 

When asked why she does drag storytime, Panda Dulce put it this way: “when you do story hour, sometimes there are queer kids, and you can really tell because they light up in a way where you just know, and you have that immediate connection…Words can't capture what that feels like." As librarians, we believe books can be both windows and mirrors; some books provide windows into unfamiliar worlds, and some books reflect and confirm our own experiences. Both are important for children—and adults. For some kids, a drag storytime is a window into a new, colorful world; for others, it reflects and confirms a deeper part of themselves. That sense of exploration, discovery, resonance, and unity is at the heart of public libraries.

It was clear in the aftermath of the June incident that many in the San Lorenzo community felt the way we library staff did, that LGBTQ+ community belongs in our spaces. Many local community groups, programs, and businesses offered letters of support. Alameda County Supervisor Dave Brown and his District 3 staff also showed immediate and unwavering support. As a show of commitment, he funded a full year of LGBTQ+ library programming for each month from July 2022-June 2023. Through this support, the San Lorenzo Library is hosting monthly programming as part of Every Month is Pride Month, including an upcoming drag storytime on February 18, 2023.  

The Alameda County Library will proudly continue to offer drag storytimes and LGBTQ+ programming at every opportunity. This programming is all about connection—connecting with our own creativity and joy, and connecting with others. As some of our San Lorenzo LGBTQ+ library staff put it: “it’s time for libraries to show up and show out for the LGBTQ+ community!” Drag storytime belongs in public libraries.