LGBTQ+ community turns out to defend drag storytime sessions from possible protests

Around 25 people made up of members of the city’s LGBTQ+ community and other supporters turned up to defend a program running at public libraries this summer where drag queens, kings and monarchy read stories to kids.

Reading With Royalty is a collaboration between the Calgary Public Library and Calgary Pride aimed at starting conversations about inclusivity and diversity. The latest story reading was held on Wednesday at the Nicholls Family Library next to Westbrook Mall in southwest Calgary.

But protests at similar drag story time events in the U.S. have recently attracted anger, abuse and threats by far right groups — a library in California was recently stormed by the Proud Boys — leaving the LGBTQ+ community in Calgary worried about the possibility of copycat protests in their city.

“Unfortunately, if we aren’t here standing up for what’s right and [for] who we are, they’re going to be able to take the power. I want to make sure the children and performers are the most protected they can be,” said drag performer Farrah Nuff.

“People before us have fought for the same things and we have to make sure we keep doing it.”

Potential backlash

Nuff and others who gathered outside the Nicholls Family Library dressed in costumes, pride flags, stickers and colourful clothing, said comments and threats were made on social media about the Calgary program. Screenshots of some social media posts alluded to the grooming of children and insinuated sending a group of men to Wednesday’s event.

Another performer, who goes by the name Jessika Rabid, wanted to show their support to families turning up to take part in the reading.

“I bring my own kids to Reading With Royalty and they consider a lot of the readers to be family, so it’s important for me to stand up for kids and my friends and family who are reading there,” she said.

“It’s homophobia, it’s just hate. They feel like we’re somehow a danger when we’re just here to hang out with kids and read books and dress up.”

The Calgary Public Library said the event was a big success in terms of numbers of attendees, and that no potential disruptions took place.

“We have drag queens and kings come in to read stories and just provide a really fun, inclusive story time for anyone that wants to attend,” said Shauna May with the Calgary Public Library.

“We were planning for a nice calm day and that’s what we’ve got. The program was fully registered and we had people waiting at the door to get in. It was over-subscribed and it shows programs like this are wanted,” said May.

The library has its own security at many urban locations. Calgary police officers and peace officers were also present outside Wednesday’s event. 

A Reading With Royalty event took place at the Nicholls Family Library next to Westbrook Mall on Wednesday morning. There were concerns that far right protesters might show up to disrupt the event. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Calgary Pride said the event is aimed at promoting inclusion, acceptance and diversity, and encouraging kids and families to look beyond gender stereotypes.

“Drag has evolved from a diverse form of expression, it has also become an art form, which we encapsulate into this program,” said Sumit Munjal with Calgary Pride.

“The idea is to create avenues of conversation and open up the dialogue of gender and gender expression,” said Munjal. “The things that we didn’t see growing up for ourselves, we want to create those avenues for kids growing up in this day and age.”

Munjal said children shouldn’t feel like they need to fit inside a box. He added that the program gives kids the opportunity to see themselves represented and celebrated in different stories, so they can feel loved and accepted.

Spill over from U.S.

There are also real concerns within the community that aspects of U.S. right wing politics are being copied and spread by people with similar views in Calgary, said Munjal.

“We never expected any negative backlash up until recently. It has a lot to do with the media discourse around U.S. politics. Certain things spill over into Canada. Before that we had no backlash.”

Several drag storytelling events in the U.S., including in Arizona and California, have been disrupted by protesters. A kids drag show at a gay bar in Texas lead to state Rep. Bryan Slaton announcing that he will introduce legislation prohibiting minors to be present at future events. 

When asked about the show of support outside the latest Reading With Royalty event in Calgary, Munjal said he’s overwhelmed with gratitude.

“I see this and I have goosebumps. They are defending the avenues they didn’t have growing up and sticking up for Calgary Pride and the library,” he said.

Munjal said drag queens make great storytellers for kids as they are visually interesting to look at and are natural performers.

“Kids just ask questions like ‘where did you get this crown?’ and ‘how long did it take you to get ready?’,” he said.

The next Reading With Royalty event happens on July 7 at Louise Riley Library in the city’s northwest. 

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