Library story time aims to let kids talk about LGBTQ issues
MIDDLETOWN — As a way to introduce children to the topic of gender identity, as well as feel comfortable discussing these issues, the library has adopted a curriculum that exposes young people to books read by adults fluent in the subject.
In celebration of LGBT Pride Month, Jennifer Billingsley, Russell Library interim assistant director, thought implementing the program in a story-hour format, read by drag queens, would encourage young people — kindergartners to eighth graders — and their parents to take part in the discussion.
Drag Queen Story Hour is a national initiative.
“Children in our community are expressing gender fluidity. It’s something that our children are going through and expressing, and that is part of our patron base,” Billingsley said. “This is a really great way to allow kids to interact with something they may not have had experience with or have been experiencing. To see that an adult is successful and happy and welcome in the library is very powerful.”
Knowing that Main Street bars and restaurants have held similarly themed programs for adults, and after attending an LGBTQ night at Conspiracy craft cocktail bar and restaurant, Billingsley noticed something interesting.
“A couple of people were bringing their families to this, because there’s a food area that’s separate from the bar,” she said, and, after talking to management and a few performers, at least two of whom live in Middletown, she thought the library would be a great place to hold a similar program.
“There is a burgeoning drag scene, essentially, in Middletown,” said Billingsley, who connected with Robert Crowley, a city resident who goes by the stage name Mia!]. He is donating his time, and worked with Billingsley to choose titles he’ll read Saturday, she said.
“This is a great chance to show youth a different artistic expression. To get to be a part of such a fun and accepting experience like this is an honor,” he said.
Drag queens read stories to children in libraries, schools and bookstores as a way to capture the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood, according to the DQSH mission.
“It gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models. In spaces such as these, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where people can present as they wish, where dress up is real,” according to the website.
DQSH was created by Michelle Tea and RADAR Productions in San Francisco. These events occur regularly in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles.
LGBTQ awareness is something adults in Middletown are concerned with and are broaching the subject with their children, said Billingsley, who believes people feel they have more license to talk about it because the discussion is being addressed on the national stage.
“I think people were always experiencing it at that age. We’re just giving them the tools to communicate that to adults. I think gender is a construct,” Billingsley said, explaining her personal belief.
“If you are letting kids know that it is OK to wear whatever clothing they want, I don’t think that’s a bad thing to be re-enforcing, no matter how they’re identifying gender wise,” she said.
The library is an ideal place to seek answers, Billingsley added.
“People have questions — they’re naturally curious creatures. This is a space where they can ask that while talking to someone who has the framework and feels comfortable answering that. If we don’t have the answer, we can try to look it up for you. If you have questions, we are the place that might have answers” for kids, teens and adults.
Library staff routinely track what materials patrons check out as a way of understanding what they can do better — as well as how people are using the library as a resource.
“Sometimes the books don’t have to leave the library to do good,” Billingsley said. “If you have a kid that is questioning [his or her] sexual orientation or their gender presentation or gender identity — or even really terrible [issues of] abuse or substance abuse — they are able to come into the library, look at the shelves, and get the information without having to check it out.”
Drag Queen Story Hour — Pride Celebration with Mia will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday in the activity room at Russell Library, 123 Broad St. Siblings and families are welcome to drop in.
Go to DragQueenStoryHour.org for more details on the program. Visit the library’s website at russelllibrary.org or call 860-347-2528 for information.