Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Sticky, snacking fingers and big-dimpled cheeks circled around two chairs piled with children’s books at the Main Library in Albuquerque on Saturday morning. As the names of the two readers were announced, the crowd roared in support.
Bunnie Wells Cruse and Vanessa Patricks walked out from behind a curtain and sat in front of the crowd. Their hair was big, their costumes flashy, but their presence was even larger. Cruse and Patricks were dressed in drag.
The hourlong event was a spin on the library’s weekly summer story time program. The event listing on the library’s website said it would celebrate acceptance. Kids and families of all ages packed into the downstairs room wearing rainbow clothes and colorful flower leis to listen to Cruse and Patricks read aloud.
“It is important for kids, at a young age, to know that it is OK for them to be who they are,” Patricks said. “Before going out and spreading negativity, go out and meet people and learn who they are. We’re all human.”
Dean Smith, the director of the public library system in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, said the event was a response to requests from the community.
“One of the goals of Drag Queen Storytime is to teach empathy, and with that hopefully help kids who are perceived differently – who feel excluded – and maybe other kids will not feel the need to bully kids who are perceived as different,” Smith said.
He said the library is responsible for reflecting the community and its diversity.
About five minutes into the first story, a woman in the back of the room shouted at the drag queens to “stop hurting our children.” She was booed by the audience and escorted out of the building by security, walking past a small group of protesters gathered outside the library holding signs with such message as “Leave kids alone! Drag queens go home.”
“We figured that because there would be drag queens, there would probably be protesters,” said Dagney Hales, 23. She was standing with two other women outside the library, all dressed in bright and colorful costumes.
Hales said they just wanted to make kids feel welcome at the library and to support literacy, and support education about all kinds of people.
“We want to help bring this out into the open to show people that drag queens aren’t going to eat your kids, they’re gonna help teach them to read and sing, and to dress how they feel comfortable,” she said.
In between readings, Wells Cruse and Patricks brought kids to the front of the room to sing and dance to songs like “If You’re Happy And You Know It” and “The Wheels on the Bus.”
The singing was 3-year-old Becker Mitchell’s favorite part of the experience. He came to story time with his mom, Katrina Mitchell, who said she wanted to support tolerance and safety.
“(They are) just like everyone else and this is nothing different,” Mitchell said. “Kids should know that this is how their friends are and that its just a variation of how people live their lives.”
Because of the positive reaction, library staff said they will probably make Drag Queen Storytime a regular event.