KINDERHOOK—Drag Queen Story Hour in Kinderhook, which follows the guidelines of the national organization of that name, and Drag Queen Story Time in Hudson, are just what they sound like. A drag queen comes to the library and leads a story hour for children.
“They read stories, from books on anti-bullying, on inclusivity,” said AnnaLee Giraldo, director of the Kinderhook Memorial Library. “They sing songs, do a craft—it’s very much what we do in any story hour.
“It’s not sex ed for toddlers,” she added. “We don’t discuss sex.”
Yes, drag queens perform in nightclubs, “but they know this is a library, not a club.” Yes, the performer is in costume. “But children’s programmers are often in costume,” said Ms. Giraldo.
If Ms. Giraldo sounds ready to discuss objections, she is, from experience.
The June 8 Drag Queen Story Hour at the Kinderhook Memorial Library drew more than 75 people, filling the program room. Children at the program are always with a parent or caregiver, noted Ms. Giraldo.
The idea for it took root a year ago, when the library had its first display in honor of Pride Month. The display went over well—very well. One community member said, “Tears came to my eyes,” on viewing the display. “This would have never happened when I was growing up.”
“Kinderhook has a growing LGBTQ population,” said Ms. Giraldo. “They had always been part of the larger community, but now we have an even more diverse population. A lot of LGBTQ people grew up here, felt they had to move away, and now feel they can come back,” she said. “These are people in their forties, not retirees.”
As part of the library’s policy of “radical inclusivity,” of having a collection and programming that reflect the entire community, the library’s three certified librarians had wanted to try a Drag Queen Story Hour. They got in touch with Noelle Diamond, who is affiliated with the national organization (dragqueenstoryhour.org) and had done story hours in Albany.
They set the June 8 date, announced it in the library newsletter and “received backlash from a certain group of people,” said Ms. Giraldo.
In response, “We didn’t engage in negativity, didn’t set out to convince them,” she said. “If this program wasn’t right for their family, that was OK. You can decide what’s right for your family, but not for other families.”
By scheduling the Drag Queen Story Hour on a Saturday, not a usual story hour day, the risk was reduced that families would show up by accident.
Next came a petition, signed by 70 people, asking that the library cancel the program. Of the 70 signatures, 25 lived in the library’s service area of 6,486 people in Kinderhook and Stuyvesant.
Nevertheless, the petition went straight the library’s Board of Trustees, along with 10-15 negative comments. “We shared all comments, positive and negative, with the board,” said Ms. Giraldo. “We had heart-to-heart conversations with the board. Change can be hard, and some of the pushback was symptomatic of the [demographic] change in Columbia County.”
The board “supported this program unanimously,” she said “and they held firm.”
One person “respectfully attended a board meeting, to object to the program. We listened to her.” But the board agreed, “Our job is to represent the community as it is, not as it was, or as some would wish it to be.”
When a complaint came in about using taxpayer money for the program, a board member wrote a check that paid for it.
• Those rooted in religious beliefs. Whether or not a program is appropriate for a child “is up to the parent,” said Ms. Giraldo. “It’s the library’s job to offer exposure to all sorts of things. And,” she added, “we do data-based decision-making. If no one attended a program, we wouldn’t offer it again”
• Drag queens were forcing this program on libraries. “They did not approach us, we approached them,” said Ms. Giraldo
• Drag queens have an agenda. “Yes,” said Ms. Giraldo: “kindness, inclusivity, not bullying, reading.”
The library has a policy for complaints, with a form to fill out. “No one filled it out,” said Ms. Giraldo.
Similar programs in Albany got a similar kind of pushback, she noted, all in the mail, online and on Facebook, not in person.
“I feel like we lost some people,” she said. “But for anyone we lost, perhaps another came in.”
Again the LGBTQ community thanked the library, with people saying that if the Drag Queen Story Hour “had been there when they were kids, their lives would have been totally different.”
The LGBTQool Kids, who marched in the Hudson Pride Parade, asked if they could meet at the Kinderhook library. “That made us very happy, that they feel safe here,” said Ms. Giraldo.
“We have signaled to the community that this is a safe space,” she said. “In the end, the positive far outweighed the negative.”
Drag Queen Story Time first took place at the Hudson Area Library in 2017. “We’re glad the national organization exists,” said program director Brenda Shufelt, “but we wanted to do our own thing,” so they changed a word in the title.
In this case, the library was approached, by OutHudson, a community organization with the mission to “improve the quality of life and advance the visibility of LGBTQ people in Columbia County” (outhudson.com). “We had heard about it, and thought it was a great idea,” said Ms. Shufelt.
Three performers have done four programs, with audiences ranging from 29 to 78. “We get a lot of families, and grandparents,” said Ms. Shufelt. “People in Hudson really support this.” The most recent program was led by Trixie Starr, in March. “Time to schedule another one,” said Ms. Shufelt.
The library has a “treasure chest” of costumes that the children try on and “run around in,” she said. “The kids have a great time.”
The only local objection came when Ms. Shufelt inadvertently scheduled a Drag Queen Story Time for Flag Day. She agrees that she shouldn’t have, and she won’t do it again.
Ms. Shufelt grew up in Claverack and recalls, “My dad [Richard Shufelt, (1932-2006) was a hetero man who was bullied so badly in high school that he didn’t graduate. Our take on this program is that it can make everybody kinder. It sees difference as something to be celebrated.
“But while the program is not particular to the LGBTQ community, that community has a particular marginalization. I’m gay, and I think the LGBTQ community needs more exposure, not less.”