Why these Arizona parents choose to take their kids to Drag Story Hour

performer reading at Drag Story Hour Arizona event

Freddy Prinze Charming reads to kids at a Drag Story Hour Arizona event. (Photo courtesy of Drag Story Hour Arizona)

By Alyssa Bickle

April 18, 2024

Parents who seek out a safe, diverse, and inclusive space for their children to get involved in early literacy head to Drag Story Hour.

Tania G.* first took her children to a Drag Story Hour in Chandler when they were around 6 and 8 years old.

Tania, who moved to the East Valley from Spain in 2016, has always been an advocate for LGBTQ rights. She said she wanted to find a safe space for her children to hang out.

“We are a queer family,” Tania said. “It was a good opportunity for [the] kids to connect with the queer community … in a fun way.”

Drag Story Hour is a national organization that was founded in San Francisco in 2015, with chapters in several different states, including Arizona.

The story hours are not drag shows—rather, drag performers come in as storytellers to read books that are LGBTQ-inclusive and diverse, said Michelle*, executive director of Drag Story Hour Arizona and board secretary of Drag Story Hour.

Why these Arizona parents choose to take their kids to Drag Story Hour

(Photo courtesy of Drag Story Hour Arizona)

Every storyteller goes through an onboarding process, including a background check, fingerprint clearance, literacy training, and continued education, and they all represent the organization in appropriate dress, Michelle said.

Todd Parr and Rob Sanders are frequent authors appearing in Drag Story Hours, often centering characters who are LGBTQ and/or people of color, and who come from many different backgrounds.

RELATED: How this couple made a Tempe coffee shop a haven for LGBTQ Arizonans

Events in Arizona have faced anti-LGBTQ protests and even bomb threats and other forms of violence, causing cancellations and a move toward holding some events online instead of in person.

Most events have depended on partnerships with venues such as coffee shops and bookstores, including Brick Road Coffee in Tempe and Bookmans locations in Mesa, Flagstaff and Tucson—and both of these businesses have received threats of violence for hosting them.

 

Targeted by legislation

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, sponsored Senate Bill 1026 in the 2023 legislative session, prohibiting state money from being used for “drag shows” targeting minors. He amended the bill to include a ban on the use of private money to sponsor drag performances in places like public libraries. The bill was passed but vetoed by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs.

Kavanagh said kids may be “confused” by the story hours, and that state monies should not be used to subsidize it, calling it “propaganda” used to target children.

When Drag Story Hour Arizona did hold an event at Chandler Public Library, the group used the organization’s budget and nongovernmental fundraising to rent out a private room, and it was not an official library event, said Michelle.

Kavanagh accused Drag Story Hour events of “attempting to introduce and normalize drag queens, and these are people who are often dressed in provocative, sometimes erotic outfits, they engage in exaggerated gender gestures.”

Michelle said that is not the case—everything about Drag Story Hour is “G-rated,” with books appropriate to the age group being read to and clothing that fully covers the performer.

 

A drag artist’s perspective

Freddy Prinze Charming has been a storyteller with Drag Story Hour since 2019, and has been performing in drag for almost 20 years. Technically, he is a drag king, but usually describes himself as a drag artist.

The kids get so excited when they see the drag performers, Prinze Charming said. “We’re sparkly and … we’re big and outrageous, and kids love that.”

Kavanagh told The Copper Courier he has never been to a Drag Story Hour event, but said he had seen a video of where “[a] man dressed in female attire was reading and talking to kids and making overly feminine gestures.”

“There’s nothing even remotely sexual about anything that we do at a Drag Story Hour,” Prinze Charming said. “They’re [Republican lawmakers] grasping at straws to try and find something that will villainize us.”

At its core, Drag Story Hour is about early literacy with an added bonus of inclusion and representation, like teaching kids that it is okay to be different, Prinze Charming said.

“We’re not in the business of turning children gay. That just doesn’t exist. We cannot change people’s sexual identities or gender identities, but what we can do is be a safe place for people to come,” Michelle said.

What do the parents say?

Tania has raised her kids to have access to different forms of expression and experiences, including ones that challenge the status quo.

Now, Tania volunteers as an event coordinator with the nonprofit, and her kids continue to stay involved.

The kids love the fashion, performing, and makeup—through Drag Story Hour, they get access to creative people with authentic values who empower and validate others to be who they are, Tania said. “They learn language to explain who they are and to understand who other people are,” she said.

Cherie and her husband Eric* have been taking their 7-year-old daughter to Drag Story Hour readings since around 2018.

They consider themselves to be allies to the LGBTQ community, having worked in and around the community for many years, and thought the story hours sounded like a fun and engaging way to get their daughter into early literacy.

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Eric pointed out that there are other story hours out there where the reader dresses up as the Cat in the Hat, and he said Drag Story Hour isn’t any different—it’s just another form of dress up.

The couple has taken their daughter to other story hours at libraries before, but they said none compare to the engaging and entertaining aspect of Drag Story Hour.

“It’s not just somebody staring at pages and then showing you the picture—it’s more of an immersive, fun atmosphere,” Cherie said.

Eric said the books are centered around all kinds of people, different cultures, viewpoints, and ways to deal with your feelings—like being mad or sad—and they have also benefited his daughter’s education.

“Actively exposing her to that that culture of reading and enjoying reading, I think has actually led to her having a really strong vocabulary [and] a really strong reading score,” he said.

Kavanagh told The Copper Courier that parents can do what they want, but they should be “ashamed” to take their children to events like Drag Story Hour.

“I will never feel ashamed to expose my kid to learning and reading and finding the joys within those books,” Cherie said. “There’s no way I could possibly feel ashamed taking my child to a place where she can learn in such a fun environment and be engaged.”

When people don’t understand something, their imagination replaces reality with whatever they conjure up, Eric said.

“I believe that some groups need to create a villain and they have targeted Drag Story Hour to be that villain, but I don’t think these people are really informed or know what is going on,” Tania said.

*These sources are not sharing their full names due to the violence and threats the LGBTQ community has faced involving Drag Story Hour.

Author

  • Alyssa Bickle

    Alyssa Bickle is an affordability and LGBTQ+ reporting intern for The Copper Courier. She expects to graduate in May 2024 with degrees in journalism and political science and a minor in urban and metropolitan studies. She has reported for Cronkite News and The State Press and is an assistant research analyst at ASU’s Center for Latina/os and American Politics Research.

CATEGORIES: LGBTQ

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