As CT Voice had hoped, Norwalk’s Drag Queen Story Time returned to the Norwalk Public Library on Sunday, January 26th. Like many Story Time chapters around the country, the event was protested by various action groups in the state of New England—but with the terrific performances by Connecticut’s brightest drag talent, you almost forgot there were protestors in the first place! “You really felt the love in the room,” says Vicki Oatis, director of Youth Library Services at the Norwalk Public Library. “The event is a wonderful way to show children imagination, creativity, inclusion.”
In collaboration with Norwalk’s very own gayborhood bar/performance space Troupe429, the Drag Queen Story Time featured readings and sing-alongs by Anita Manager, Robin Fierce, Frankie Cyanide and Miss Chevious. Perrin Brown, local author of The ABCs of Identities, was also in attendance. Children and their parents colored, posed for photos, and ate delicious rainbow cupcakes, generously donated by locally-operated Forever Sweet Bakery. All in all, the protestors’ presence seemed paltry in comparison to the 300 children and families in attendance.
We spoke to Oatis about Drag Queen Story Time and the importance of education and inclusivity. The next event will be held in late July; don’t miss the next one, and watch out for other chapters in New Haven, Hartford, and Stamford!
CT VOICE: This is the Norwalk Public Library’s second installment of the Drag Queen Story Time. What is the inspiration and motivation behind the event? What positive outcomes is the Norwalk Public Library hoping to achieve with the series?
Oatis: The NPL has a message of inclusion and acceptance, and Drag Queen Story Time fits with our mission perfectly. We show support for the LGBT community, but also to parents who want to expose their children to diversity, culture, and ideas. And we show support to our young people who are struggling with their identity in this way. We’ve seen so many positive outcomes from this program—not just from parents, who are so happy to bring their children, but from children.
CT VOICE: The most recent event attracted about thirty protestors, but that was merely a small part of the afternoon: nearly 300 people came to attend the event, was that it? What were some of the more positive responses to Sunday’s Story Time?
Oatis: Yes, 300: they just kept coming in! I think the response was almost entirely positive. There was a couple dozen protestors outside, and there were a couple people on social media voicing negativity. But to see all the support we had on Sunday, it really drowned out the protests.
My favorite response was actually in a comment on Facebook, from a person who had visited the library not knowing about the event. They took out the time to write the nicest comment. It’s very long, and they actually referred to the dictionary, which they called the “good book.” They looked up the definitions of the words the protestors had used, and then wrote, “Parents, you know children are born knowing how to love. They learn hate, they learn bigotry and intolerance. Please teach your children well. Teach your children to love, to think, to read. Thank you, Norwalk Public Library, keep the faith.”
CT VOICE: “Detractors of Drag Queen Story Time often believe the events are age-inappropriate, but they might be surprised to find just how family-friendly and open-minded the atmosphere is. What efforts does the NPL make to combine inclusion and education with family-friendliness?”
Oatis: We have so many programs at the library, and Drag Queen Story Time is just one of many youth events. We have our STEM Girls program, which was started by a high school senior, for young girls from Fourth to Seventh grade with a love of science. We have a Social Justice Book Club and other programs on social justice, such as the Holocaust and Japanese internment camps. We feel we are a perfect space to educate families, and hopefully sometimes in a fun way, but other times, it’s a little more serious. We try to market everything to families, too—we really love it when families can experience something new together.
CT VOICE: Something remarkable about the event was that it featured Norwalk-based drag performers. Why did you feel it was important to involve the community of Norwalk directly in the event?
Oatis: This week, there was a Pew study that came out, and it said libraries are one of the most visited places in the country. A library can help educate and provide great programming for such a wide, diverse segment of the community. I think everybody understands that libraries are open to all—and that’s why I feel it’s so important to include as many people in Norwalk as possible. It’s great to partner with local businesses and performers, to see their involvement and understanding.
I just want to thank all the people who came out to Drag Queen Story Time, too. And especially to the moms from Free Mom Hugs, who walked people into the event and kept the protestors in the background. I really appreciate what Free Mom Hugs did for the library.