The body which runs Northern Ireland’s libraries has spoken warmly of the ‘drag queen storytime’ movement, saying such events aim to foster “positivity, diversity, and inclusion” among children.
It comes amid renewed focus on the practice of having drag performers read to youngsters, after objections were raised to one such event in Belfast’s MAC theatre.
The movement (also known as ‘drag queen story hour’) has spread across America and the UK in the last several years via gay / transgender / non-binary activists.
As the practice has become more widely known recently, it has run into an upswell of opposition.
In Belfast, this took the form of a protest at the MAC on Saturday, with a drag queen called Cherrie Ontop.
Photos show perhaps half-a-dozen or so protestors (including right wing ex-Belfast councillor Jolene Bunting), with at least twice as many counter-protestors showing their support for the event.
SO WHAT DOES IT INVOLVE?
Pictures of the event itself inside show children who appear to be several months old upwards watching Cherrie Ontop (real name Matt Cavan) clad in a rainbow dress next to teddy-bears.
One image shows the drag queen reading from a book called ‘My Shadow Is Pink’ by Scott Stuart.
The book begins with a pre-school boy describing how he casts a pink-coloured shadow, and how that shadow is wearing a dress.
After a while a brutish-looking father arrives and says of the child’s shadow: “It will turn blue one of these days. Don’t worry. This is just a phase.”
The boy goes on to put on a dress for real, and his father’s attitude changes; he tells his son that his pink shadow represents his “inner-most you”.
He tells the boy he should wear a dress to school, and that if someone doesn’t like it then “they are the fool”.
The event had been billed as “a Storytime like no other for families [to] celebrate individuality, imagination, inclusivity, and the importance of being yourself”.
It had been organised by Young At Art, a charity which describes itself as “Northern Ireland’s leading arts provider for children and young people”.
ALLIANCE LEADER SAYS ‘THERE IS NO PLACE FOR HATE’:
A number of politicians offered their views on the event, such as SDLP councillor Séamas de Faoite, who has become among the most outspoken politicians on transgender and other LGBTQQIA+ matters in recent years.
“Drag has been a part of story-telling for centuries,” he said.
“It has been part of pantomime on these islands since before the state of N Ireland was even founded.”
Alliance leader Naomi Long meanwhile wrote on Twitter: “People hating on drag queens reading stories to kids have little to do.
“As a kid, I recall annual panto where the principal boy was a girl and the panto dame was a man and no-one felt the need to hold an exorcism at the theatre. #NoPlaceForHate”
WHAT OF OTHER EVENTS?
A number of such events have been held in different venues in Northern Ireland in recent years without attracting much attention, including events at The Arches Library in east Belfast in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021.
Among those taking part in a past event at the library was a drag queen called ‘Electra La C**t’, who was previously in the news for wearing a tiara covered with AIDS-infected blood on a Pride parade, and then later for screaming “up the f**king queers” at a Stormont event sponsored by DUP MLA Paula Bradley.
Asked about its hosting of such events, and whether there had been (or will be) any staged elsewhere, Libraries NI told the News Letter: “Libraries are open to all members of the community and provide a wide range of activities, events and resources.
“In previous storytelling events, the drag queen brought enthusiasm and energy to the story which children positively engaged with.
“This brought the story to life for children and therefore encouraged them to read books.
“These events were aimed at not only inspiring a love of books and reading but promoting respect, positivity, diversity and inclusion.
“The events were age appropriate, family orientated and were promoted and advertised allowing parents and carers to make informed choices.
“There are currently no plans to host any similar events.”
It added that in the past Libraries NI has not paid performers for running such events.
The News Letter had made a number of enquiries (including contacting Cherrie Ontop / Matt Cavan) with various people involved in the movement to flesh out what the purpose of drag queen storytime is, but none answered.
For example, an English company called Drag Queen Story Hour UK (which plans such events) was asked in general terms what the objective of ‘drag queen story hour’ is.
It said it was unable comment because it was not involved in the Belfast one.
However it added that “Drag Queen Story Hour UK have plans to visit Northern Island soon with a Northern Island Tour” [sic].
Though he declined to comment to the News Letter, following the protest at the MAC Mr Cavan wrote on Twitter that he had been “intimidated by a lot [of] comments I have received” but that “no matter what you call me or say about me I will not stop doing storytime events in drag!”