COMMENTARY: I'm the president of Drag Story Hour-AZ, and our safety is at risk because of senate republicans.
Guest opinion column on the recent bomb threat made at a Tempe drag event, and a new Eyes on the State
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By David Boyles- LOOKOUT Opinion Contributor
On February 2, Anthony Kern—disgraced former cop, election-denying January 6th insurrectionist, and newly elected Arizona state senator—defended his attempts to ban family-friendly drag shows by saying he wanted to "protect children" and "push back on evil." Less than two weeks after saying that, someone threatened to blow up a local queer business full of children because they were attending a drag storytelling event.
Both Kern’s legislation and the bomb threat need to be understood as part of an ongoing and coordinated attack on the existence of LGBTQ+ people – and trans and gender-nonconforming people in particular – in public spaces. They are also a part of a long tradition by the religious right to paint LGBTQ+ people as a threat to children—with no evidence—and use this as an excuse to harass and terrorize our community.
Groups who oppose Drag Story Hour-Arizona weaponize trends such #NotInOurSchools and #SaveOurChildren against us.
They slander our organization and other LGBTQ+ youth groups to agitate the public into believing that children are in danger, but our goal is to support children and families by countering the erasure of queer stories.
Drag Story Hour was founded in 2015 as a response to the lack of representation of LGBTQ+ people and families in most mainstream children's literacy programs. Thirty years after Leslea Newman's Heather Has Two Mommies caused a national furor and became one of the most banned books in the country for daring to depict lesbian parents in a children's book, many classrooms and library story hours still cater to the fragile feelings of cisgender and heterosexual parents by not daring to discuss the existence of LGBTQ+ people.
In the eight years of its existence, Drag Story Hour has grown and spread around the world, with over 50 chapters from San Francisco to Tokyo, including Drag Story Hour- Arizona, which we started in 2019.
In Arizona, as in other places, the response to our programs has been overwhelming and positive. Our audiences have continued to grow because many in our community want more family-friendly queer spaces and they want to be introduced to the kinds of stories that are often kept out of schools and other spaces.
An example of the stories we tell that parents and kids might not hear elsewhere is the book A Song for the Unsung by Carole Boston Weatherford and Rob Sanders, which is a picture book about Bayard Rustin, the gay Black civil rights leader who planned the 1963 March on Washington and taught Dr. King about nonviolent resistance. Our storyteller Felicia Minor planned to read the book as part of our Black History Month story hour at Brick Road Coffee on Sunday.
She never did, because someone threatened to blow up the building. (She did read the book during an impromptu live streamed story hour that was organized after the event was canceled).
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The parallels between Rustin’s experience and how queer people are treated by legislators today should be telling: Rustin's many contributions to the civil rights movement were marginalized because he was an out gay man. The week before the March on Washington, he was called a pervert on the floor of the United States Senate by segregationist senator Strom Thurmond, similar to how Sen. Kern recently called us "evil" in the Arizona legislature 60 years later.
Rustin once said, "When an individual is protesting society's refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him."
Every attack on the right of LGBTQ+ people to exist publicly – from the anti-drag bills to censoring LGBTQ+ books in schools or acts of terrorism meant to silence us – is an attack on the dignity of every LGBTQ+ person.
By publicly celebrating queer history and culture for people of all ages, events such as Drag Story Hour and the many other programs offered by Brick Road Coffee are conferring dignity on every LGBTQ+ person. Every family who attends one of our events is conferring dignity upon themselves by refusing to participate in the continued erasure of our community.
We will continue to do this work and advocate for our community against legislators such as Sen. Kern, who uses terror tactics in the legislature to further refuse and acknowledge our dignity as human beings.
David Boyles (he/they) is the co-founder and president of Drag Story Hour-Arizona, which was established in 2019 to bring queer-inclusive story hour events to children and families across Arizona. They also teach English at Arizona State University and are an advocate for LGBTQ+ youth in the Valley. In 2022, they published their first novel, Life is a Banquet.
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"The idea that someone would hurt a room full of babies and children is horrific.”
- Amber Lewis, an attendee at Drag Queen Story Hour, who evacuated from Brick Road Coffee after a bomb threat was made
EYES ON THE STATE
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