The newest chapter of the fast-growing Drag Queen Story Hour movement comes to Richmond’s Fountain Bookstore for the first time on Saturday, March 14.
Childhood can be rough. Inner conflicts fuel external confrontations, which only make the inner conflicts worse. In the hallway and at recess, adult-taught slogans celebrating individuality are undermined by peer-to-peer condemnation of any difference from the norm, no matter how slight. This problem, which exists for many kids, is exponentially worse for LGBTQ youth.
Enter Drag Queen Story Hour. DQSH was started in 2015 by San Francisco writer Michelle Tea. It has since grown, boasting over 50 official chapters across the United States and overseas. It has also steadily drawn the animosity of the grown-up version of schoolyard bullies. Their accusation? That DQSH represents that Gay Agenda, of course. That by accepting the basic humanity of those with gender expressions outside the narrow confines of heteronormativity, children are in grave danger of embracing their inner fabulousness.
According to Todd Reazor and Austin Sweigart, who are in the process of bringing DQSH to Richmond, the program is really a literary vehicle for self-acceptance and inclusivity. “We see DQSH as a way to show inclusion, diversity, and expression,” they said. “Showing families and children that having differences is okay can make a world of difference.”
Three years ago, Sweigart and Reazor moved to Richmond from Pennsylvania, where they were both involved in advocacy for LGBTQ rights and visibility. When a friend started a DQSH chapter in Reading, PA, they fell in love with the project, and found it to be a perfect fit for their own Gay Agenda.
“We’ve both been passionate about advocacy within the queer community,” they said. “As a result we started a business, #GayAgenda, that focuses on creating LGBTQ-inclusive environments. We knew that DQSH was a great way to provide educational and inclusive family events.”
While they were in the process of locating potential venues in the Richmond area, Kelly Justice, owner of Fountain Bookstore, was meeting the Global Program Director of DQSH at a conference. When Justice returned home, she reached out and offered her shop as a venue, and the Richmond DQSH was born.
LGBTQ youth have a rate of attempted suicide that is 1.5 to 3 times higher than their cisgender, heterosexual peers, and this statistic is impossible to divorce from the fact that they are disproportionately targeted for bullying. A culture of relative secrecy when it comes to LGBTQ identity only further isolates LGBTQ youth – in too many places, there just isn’t substantial access to openly gay or transgender role models for children. For Sweigart and Reazor, DQSH is a step in combating this inequity.
“With both of us growing up and being raised as boys for the majority of our lives, something like DQSH could have shown us that we are normal, and fine as we are,” they said.
But DQSH is also about the stories themselves. Stories express the beauty of individuality, and demonstrate the limitless potential of imagination. They also have the potential to show us new ways to see ourselves. The act of reading out loud gives further weight to this possibility – instead of isolation, reading stories cultivates community, validating our differences while underscoring our essential humanity.
“One of the best ways to improve literacy and get children to want to read is to show stories that reflect an interest or part of their life,” Sweigart and Reazor said. “At DQSH, we will read stories that parallel struggles and highlight differences. Stories will feature characters that don’t fit gender stereotypes, show same-gender parents, while promoting kindness and understanding.”
Richmond Drag Queen Story Hour will kick off March 14th at Fountain Bookstore, located at 1312 E. Cary St in Shockoe Slip. It will be held on the second Saturday of each month thereafter. Story hours start at 10:30am. The first reader is organizer Mx. Tara Byte (Austin Sweigart).
Future readers include organizer Mx. Anita Manager (Todd Reazor), Tiffani Hunter-Monique, Miss Liz Bien, Miss Milka Magnesia, and Ms. Faye Kapology.
Richmond DQSH is always looking for readers, and drag performers of all kinds are welcome to apply. If you’re interested, email [email protected]
Top Photo via Drag Queen Story Hour/Facebook