Drag as a form of creative, physical and spiritual expression has existed within theatre and cultural performance for millennia. Then there are the countless heterosexual men who have waited patiently for the occasional fancy dress party or footy weekend so they can get boozed and dress up as women. Lately it seems drag has hit the mainstream, bringing a bit of fun and flair to small town trivia and bingo nights. Despite this, since the first Drag Storytime was held at the San Francisco Public Library in 2015, the concept has courted controversy.
In case you didn’t know, Drag Storytime is when a drag performer is invited to a venue, usually a library or a bookstore or a school, and arrives in some flavour of drag costume that is appropriate for children (usually involving glitter and bright colours). Parents arrive with children in tow, everyone takes their seat, and the performer reads children’s books. Shocking. I know. These events are designed to achieve two important things: 1) encourage children to read books and 2) introduce them to diverse role models and encourage acceptance, love, and respect of the LGBTIQ+ community.
Yet for some reason, some right-wing extremists believe that these events are akin to sexualising children or exposing them to the SHOCKING reality that gender exists beyond the binary. Across the world, including in Australia, they have seen fit to turn up to these events in protest, even sending death and bomb threats to libraries and other venues that host them, all in the name of ‘protecting’ children. I’m pretty sure children are going to be more terrified walking into a library surrounded by angry mobs chanting homophobic slogans than they are by a man in a wig and a dress reading a book, but anyway.
Recently several local Councils in Australia have had to cancel Drag Story Time events and apologise to LGBTIQ+ communities, following threats and protests from groups that comprise a broad coalition of neo-Nazis, far-right protestors, Christian Conservatives and conspiracy theorists. This hysteria and moral panic has been helped along by conservative political leaders, such as Liberal Senator Alex Antic who last year accused the ABC of “grooming” children and encouraging “gender dysphoria” by allowing a drag performer Courtney Act to read a children’s book on Play School about a girl who likes to wear trousers.
My six-year-old daughter recently accompanied her auntie to a ‘glam night’ at the Tweed Shire Museum, which included a performance by local Drag Queen Milena Missi. The event was sponsored by Tweed Shire Council. “Did you like the Drag Queen?” I asked her the next day. She smiled and nodded, and then changed the subject to the latest game she was playing on her iPad. In our family, Drag Queens are about as controversial as clowns.
Who knows whether Ballina will ever get its own Drag Queen Story Time, but if it does, I can guarantee that my daughter and I will have front row seats. In the meantime, here are some small and simple things that Councils can do to make their communities more inclusive for LGBTIQ+ people and their families:
- ‘Usualise’ queerness in public space, e.g. installing rainbow crossings, flying the official flags for gender diverse groups on key dates and including pronouns on email signatures.
- Celebrating and/or sponsoring festivals and events that foreground LGBTIQ+ people and their rights, e.g. International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT).
- Consulting with LGBTIQ+ communities, including forming LGBTIQ+ advisory committees to assist council’s decision making in LGBTIQ+ matters.
- Providing staff within training in equity and inclusion in relation to LGBTIQ+ matters, including supporting transitioning staff members.
- Designing inclusive open and public spaces, e.g. ensuring the availability of gender-neutral public toilets.
Councillor Kiri Dicker
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