Opinion: What ‘Protecting’ Kids From Drag Queens When Gun Violence Runs Amok Says About The US

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There are few bits of schadenfreude more schadenfreude-y to this writer than watching conservative Bible bangers get all bent out of shape over “acts of immorality” that have no bearing on anything. It’s one of my favorite pastimes.

The latest thing galvanizing the cavalcade of Karens to protest is the existence of drag queens ― namely, the Drag Queen Story Hour, an international collective created by author Michelle Tea in 2015 to have people dressed in drag read books to children ages 3 to 11. According to its website, it has 28 chapters in the United States and four overseas.

Unsurprisingly, the unwashed right (and some of my people, too…I see y’all) are incensed at the very idea of men in gowns reading to their children to the point that they’ve broken out the Sharpies, made offensive signs and are attending the story hours to cause a general ruckus… or worse. Though I enjoy watching their collective bloomers ride up their nether regions, there’s nothing funny about how these people are treating the readers or the parents.

Last month, members of the Proud Boys, an all-male, neofascist group stacked with incels and folks whose moms apparently didn’t show them enough love as children, held a protest at a Silver Spring, Maryland, bookstore, yelling homophobic and transphobic slurs and calling attendees “bad parents,” as if the Proud Boys are standard-bearers of social decorum.

The Texas Tribune documented multiple recent anti-drag protests, many aimed at the story hour and perpetuated by an anti-LGBT organization called Protect Texas Kids. In metro Detroit, a group with the wildly original name Grand New Party protested a Drag Queen Story Hour event Saturday.

Wadsworth, Ohio, saw something more ominous this weekend: A gathering of armed Neo-Nazis protested a story hour in a public park. Guns were pulled, pepper was sprayed, F-bombs and N-bombs were dropped, and folks were arrested.

Just last week, the entire state of Tennessee essentially outlawed public drag performances at the same time it banned transgender minors in the state from receiving gender-affirming care.

I’m woefully aware that even placing “children” and “LGBT” in the same sentence is enough for a gang of folks to lose their collective minds. It’s the woefully misguided notion that gay people rub their icky gay granules all over perfectly heterosexual children to make them suddenly move to San Francisco’s Castro District and start performing show tunes, despite there being zero empirical evidence to suggest this is a thing.

I don’t know why Drag Queen Story Hour has attracted such concentrated animosity of late, despite existing these last eight years, but as someone who has attended his share of drag shows and was also a professional teacher, Drag Queen Story Hour sounds amazing. It’s probably a welcome panacea for kids bored with listening to the monotone of their underpaid, overworked, soul-drained homeroom teacher.

Considering that we’re basically in a post-pandemic education crisis and that kids would do well to get book learnin’ where they can, I’d be OK with a hippopotamus reading to my hypothetical child if it kept their attention.

The irony of all this animus in a culture in which we historically dress up for entertainment is not lost on me, either. We have a whole damn holiday at the end of October dedicated to it. Clowns are meant for children but are extremely drag-adjacent and creepy… why isn’t anyone protesting them?

Part of the problem boils down to unmitigated ignorance: Middle America and homogenous enclaves of folks who learned everything they know about drag from watching “The Birdcage.” Roll together religion, patriarchy and a stubborn desire to uphold the gender binary, and men in cocktail dresses becomes anathema to people who don’t even bother to look deeper.

Many opponents of the story hours are convinced that drag queens are showing up in libraries dressed for a San Francisco Gay Pride Parade after-party ― oozing sex and wearing as little fabric as genitalia cover demands. A Missouri man name Kyle Denton made a Facebook post dispelling this idea, showing drag queens dressed in the themes of the book they’re reading and acting out what’s on the pages. I’d adore this if I were 10 years old.

“Grooming” has been used to describe the reading hours ― infuriating language that suggests the readers are using Roald Dahl to subliminally teach kids to cut holes in rest stop bathroom stalls. I believe this is related to the natural conflation of drag with trans people (not that they’d cut holes in bathroom stalls), but they aren’t the same thing. However, people showing up with signs to ruin everyone’s fun are often unconcerned with the facts.

It doesn’t take a deep dive to see that protesters aren’t actually doing this to protect children. Much in the way that the same people who condemn abortion are wholly uninterested in the development of the born child, protests of the Drag Queen Story Hour are bitching 100 miles an hour in the wrong direction in a country where mass shootings in schools have claimed the lives of dozens of children in the last decade.

These folks aren’t making signs to protest the fact that gun laws are actually getting laxer: Fresh off sending its LGBT electorate back to the mid-20th century, Tennessee lawmakers are working on a bill to loosen firearms restrictions, making it so anyone 18 and older can openly carry any kind of gun. Gotta ensure the masses are armed to protect children from all those men in dresses, I guess.

Jon Stewart recently summarily executed Oklahoma Republican Sen. Nathan Dahm on his Apple TV+ show, “The Problem With Jon Stewart,” when talking to Dahm about his insistence on deregulating gun ownership but keeping drag queens out of the streets because the “government has a responsibility to protect children.”

I’ll close with Stewart’s quote because I couldn’t express it better myself:

“[W]hat you’re telling me is you don’t mind infringing free speech to protect children from this amorphous thing that you think of, but when it comes to children that have died, you don’t give a flying fuck to stop that because that shall not be infringed. That is hypocrisy at its highest order.”