"Drag Queen Story Hour"

Jan 25, 2019

Anchor Intro: The cities of Mobile and New Orleans now have more in common than Mardi Gras and Jazz. The public libraries in both towns now offer a unique twist on story hour for children. APR’s Pat Duggins headed to the port city for its inaugural event. He brings us the voices of protesters on both sides of the issue of inclusion for Mobile’s LGBTQ community. This story was covered as a collaboration between Alabama Public Radio and the University of Alabama's Center for Public Television, where Duggins worked alongside a student video team.

“Jesus saves liars! Jesus saves sodomites! Jesus saves child molesters!”

By all appearances, this isn't your average Saturday at Mobile's Ben May Public Library. Police today are setting barricades to separate two groups of protesters. You’re hearing from an unofficial spokesman on one side. People on the other side of the argument prefer to let their signs do the talking…

“My sign says there’s room for everyone under the reading rainbow,” says Elizabeth Denton.

“Well, one of them says Jesus had two dads, which I guess is self-explanatory," says Leeann Taylor.

“Children should live, laugh, love, and learn. They should not judge, hate, and be suppressed,” says Zachary Meers.

“For us, it’s just a few miles away from where I’m sitting in this studio, there’s a library that’s hosting this events,” says Pat Robertson. The issue that drew these protesters to Mobile’s public library had previously raised the ire of the televangelist. ”They're reading stories to children, and it’s called Drag Queen Story Hour. Give me a break.”

“You don’t have to agree with it. But, you don’t have to be…rude,” says Wade Brasfield. He lives about a mile and a half from the library and today’s commotion. He didn’t cause the ruckus but he is in the middle of it… “We can be family friendly. I mean, just because I do a drag show in a bar one night, doesn’t mean I can’t teach an art class to kids the next day.”

Brasfield is getting ready to read during Mobile’s first ever Drag Queen Story Hour…

“We just want to read stories to children," he says. "We just want to be sparkly and fun, and give them something to ooh and ahh at, and read them some stories and, everybody have a great time.”

And, in full drag. In Brasfield’s case that means his stage persona of Khloe Kash…

“Anytime you go to an event like this, you arrive ready. You never know what’s going to happen…”

“Hello everyone, and thank you for coming!” says Rainbow Mobile Executive Director Bryan Fuenmayor before a crowd of supporters at the library. “This is so awesome, I am so happy you all came here!” The LGBTQ support group arranged today’s Drag Queen Story Hour. Fuenmayor says the library agreed to host the event because, he asked… “We’ve done events here in the past. We’ve had a writers’ club, and a movie night. All it took was submitting an application and we got a response back, and that was it…”

“I think it’s incredible, it’s very encouraging," Fuenmayor told the crowd. "I was not expecting this many folks. But, yeah, I’m glad everyone’s here, all this positivity, and happiness, it’s incredible.”

“This isn’t about the gay issue, okay?” says Lou Campomenosi. He's is with the opposition protesters, many of whom carried bibles along with their signs. The former Marine is an organizer of Mobile’s Common Sense Tea Party Movement. ‘ “Just the long and the short of it, is that we just think this is an age inappropriate reading to be doing for kids three to eight years old. If I wanted to bring a Playboy bunny to do a reading of Fifty Shades of Gray, do you think for a second that they’d let us do that? I don’t think so.”

“It was something I personally had never seen before, so I jumped at it," says Wade Brasfield. "I’ll read stories to kids, like sure.” Back at Wade Brasfield’s home, he says beyond the wig, the dress, and the make-up…it’s the children’s stories and their make believe settings that can teach life lessons that’s the point… 

“That being self-love, acceptance, equality," says Brasfield. "You know, there are so many things…”

Take the Dr. Seuss classic “The Sneeches."

"Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches-Had none upon thars,“ reads eight year old Indie Briscoe of Birmingham.

“Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small. You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.”

Writer Theodor Seuss Geisel (that’s Dr. Seuss) wrote this book in 1961 as the civil rights movement reached its height. It’s a made-up story about discrimination between Sneeches with stars on their bellies and those who didn’t …

“But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches. With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they’d snort, we’ll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!”

“Didn’t they all, at the end, take all their stars off,” asks Brasfield. And, just weren’t normal at that point? Like, didn’t everybody go to the party?” In fact, that’s how it ends. Brasfield says, unlike the Sneeches, he didn’t go to the party a lot while growing up in his hometown of Tuscaloosa. He was gay and many of his schoolmates and teachers were intolerant. Brasfield says that makes stories of inclusion especially meaningful to him…

“I don’t care where you’re from, or who you are, what your background is. Who are you? When everybody is gone, and there’s nothing to distract you. Who are you, then?”

“Make no mistake, that this is an indoctrination of children into an alternative lifestyle,” says Common Cause organizer Pete Riehm. Show time at the library is drawing near, and Riehm is firing up opponents of Drag Queen Story Hour. He’s not preacher, but his comments have the feel of a sermon. “San Francisco’s LGBT community is looking to establish a beach head in the Deep South…”

And, it’s not just among critics of today’s event where emotions sound raw…

“The reason I got involved in this is because I have LGBT kids,” says Kimberly Wright-Knowles. She isn’t with Rainbow Mobile, but she did help organize sign toting supporters that now almost encircle the outside of the library. Wright-Knowles says everyone’s not here just to support the story hour. “As a momma bear, when I see people saying hateful things about my children, because they’re my children, I’m not going to tolerate it anymore.”

“I am ready! We’re ready to have a great time today!” says Wade Brasfield as he arrives at the library in an iridescent blue dress and a wig streaked in blue. And, he’s has company…

“Hello, I’m Champagne Monroe!”

Over two hundred children showed up for today’s reading, so Rainbow Mobile asked Champagne Monroe to join Brasfield in drag for a second round of storytelling. Brasfield as Khloe Kash is the lead off… “You guys excited?” asks Brasfield to the cheers of the audience. His first book is titled “Stella Brings The Family,” about a little girl with two dads…

“The big day arrived. Daddy, Papa, Nona, Uncle Bruno, Aunt Gloria, and Cousin Lucy went with Stella to school,” read Brasfield. “She had so many guests, she hoped it would be okay…”

Today’s Drag Queen Story Hour ended with no arrests and no problems. Now, that Mobile's first event is in the books, Brasfield says he's hearing suggestions of having the same kind of story hour in his hometown of Tuscaloosa. He says he'll think about it, but he's not sure how it would go...

“The end,” finished Brasfield.