A library on New York’s Long Island is hosting its first “Drag Queen Story Hour,” part of a nationwide campaign that has brought plenty of publicity and controversy.
The Port Jefferson Library will host drag queen entertainer Harmonica Sunbeam on September 22 to read stories to children.
“Drag Queen Story Hour” features a host who reads to children for 45 minutes. Many will even paint faces, sing songs, and do arts and crafts. Books that are read are specially chosen to features themes of individuality and tolerance.
The event is organized through the Drag Queen Story Hour organization (click here to visit their website), which has chapters in 40 states and several countries. It was founded in 2015 in San Francisco and has organized reading times in libraries within New York City, but this is the first on nearby Long Island.
“We don’t think of ourselves as cutting edge, but we are a little bit ahead of the curve when it comes to something like this,” says Tom Donlon, director of the Port Jefferson Library. The library was approached by a patron requesting the program, and the library staff felt the event would help open a dialogue about gender fluidity, Donlon says. “We think a good swath of our community will be interested in it,” he says.
Harmonica Sunbeam is a 45-year-old male piano teacher who lives in New Jersey and goes by the professional name she uses for her onstage personality. “You get a lot of diva, a lot of glamorousness, shiny, sparkly colorful things that are fun for the drag queen and the children,” Sunbeam says of how she dresses, adding that drag queens are a part of LGBTQ culture.
Harmonica Sunbeam has a number of videos online, mostly tied to club appearances, but one video actually features a “bedtime story.” It should be noted that this is not the story that Sunbeam reads to children. Warning: the language is not safe for work.
Organizers realize the controversy surrounding the readings and tries to answer their concerns.
If parents and children wish to ask questions, she’ll answer them, she says. “Sometimes the kids just see you as this fabulous storyteller and they don’t see anything beyond that, and that’s fine,” Sunbeam says. But some kids will ask whether she’s a man or a woman. “I tell them that I am a fabulous drag queen, that I am a man and in my drag form I’m a woman.”
Todd Pittinsky of Port Jefferson, 48, a professor of technology and society at Stony Brook University, has signed up to attend the story hour with his son, Alexandru, 5. “I’m bringing Alex because I want him to understand he lives in a country with lots of different people and lots of different ways of being,” Pittinsky says.
The Drag Queen Story Hour leadership understands that their program may not appeal to all library patrons, Hamilt says. Most of the pushback the program has gotten has been voiced online, he says.
The library has not announced how many children have signed up to attend the event.
Post your thoughts in the comments section below on the Drag Queen Story Hour in New York. In addition, share this on social media.