At this Indy library story hour, drag queens read to kids

(INDYSTAR.com) - Forget pajamas and cartoons. For Halle Pino, Ida Kay and Blair St. Clair, Saturday morning meant story time for a room of young kids — and dress-up story time at that.

The occasion? Drag Queen Storytime at the Indianapolis Central Library. The trio read tales with superhero themes to the kids who sprawled out on the floor, in the seats and on parents' laps in Clowes Auditorium. 

On the program were "Ten Rules of Being a Superhero," "Princess Super Kitty," "My Mom Has X-ray Vision" and crafts that included mask-making and coloring. The trio took turns reading the books, sprinkling color commentary throughout that appealed to the few dozen kids and adults.

To keep up engagement, the trio asked questions, including "What did you learn about being a superhero?" and, in reference to superheroes' need to snack, "Do you like cookies?"

The latter seemed to be the most popular topic among the youngest audience members.

The mission of Drag Queen Storytime is to promote literacy, diversity and artistic expression, said Stephen Lane, a library activity guide who plans programs for kids.

"I want kids to experience just the fun of being around drag queens, the creativity, their style, their expression of their individuality," Lane said. 

The event shows kids that it's OK to be different — it's what makes you special, Pino said.

"When we put on drag, that is a superhero costume because it is an extension of our existing personality," Pino said. "It allows us to do something greater than ourselves by being faces in the community and by being voices in the community."

Saturday's event was the second of its kind at the library, Lane said, and he would like to organize more in the future. He worked with the Indy Bag Ladies, an HIV and AIDS fundraising organization, and Open for Service, an organization that supports businesses promoting diversity, to program the first Drag Queen Storytime to coincide with the Circle City IN Pride festival in June.

Lane saw a news story about Drag Queen Story Hour — which takes place San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York — posted to a friend's Facebook page and thought a similar event would be a good fit for Indianapolis. 

June's event drew about 100 people, activity guide Shelby Phelps said. For Stephanie Galbreath, Drag Queen Storytime offered something that captured her daughters Sariah, 4, and September, 1.

"They like story time, but, you know, it's kind of hard to get them to sit still, so I'm just trying to find something fun for them to do," Galbreath said.

With a light-up headpiece, sparkling jewelry, gold sequins and knee-high boots as part of the drag queen's costumes, all eyes were on the trio.

"Sometimes ... when I do story time by myself, the parents are texting and the kids are, you know, rolling around," Lane said. "With drag queen story time, it seems that everyone's engaged."

"With the drag queens, it does make it funnier," said 12-year-old Jacy Pugh.

Reaction to the event has been mostly positive, with some pushback coming on social media, Lane said. A few people expressed disagreement with the event on the Indianapolis Public Library's Facebook page.

One comment, for example, read: "I am shocked there is such an organization geared towards children and this indoctrination. Praying for Indianapolis and any other city that supports this. In Jesus name!"

Pino said the Bag Ladies weren't trying to indoctrinate kids. 

"Half of these kids probably aren't going to even recognize the fact that we're men," Pino said. "It would only take their parents telling them that. We're not going to tell them. And it's not that we're trying to pull the wool over their eyes or anything. Again, this is just another expression of our artistic side."

Vanessa Blizzard, who brought her son Korben, and Heather Pugh are friends with the drag queens and wanted to support them.

"As a parent, we make choices," said Pugh, who is Jacy Pugh's mother. "Some parents choose to expose their children to religion, some parents choose to expose their children to culture, the arts. I'm working to teach my children to be open-minded, loving, accepting people."

Call IndyStar reporter Domenica Bongiovanni at (317) 444-7339. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

INDYSTAR.com


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