Drag Queen Story Hour NYC Bringing Program to Older Kids

By popular demand, the New York City chapter of Drag Queen Story Hour will start programming for middle and high school students.

When Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) first started its programming for three- to eight-year-olds at libraries and bookstores around the New York City’s five boroughs and elementary schools, the organization began getting requests from middle and high school teachers.

Educator after educator was told: sorry, this programming wasn't availalable for older kids.

That didn't deter them.

“We kept getting more and more requests, and the drag queens were saying, ‘We really want to do this. We really want to work with teenagers because it’s so important,’” says Rachel Aimee, executive director of the New York City chapter of DQSH (DQSH NYC). “We [said], ‘Yeah, why are we not doing it?’”

One reason was that the programming was indeed designed for younger kids, but that could be adapted easily enough. The other issue was funding, and there is no quick fix there.

While DQSH NYC received funding from city council members, which helps cover some library events in their districts, according to Aimme, it operates on a sliding scale for libraries, bookstores and other venues, and it brings its programs to New York City’s Title I schools for free. Moving beyond elementary schools and continuing to provide Title I school programs at no cost would require a lot more money.

“We’re going to do need to do a ton of fundraising or figure out getting a grant or something,” she says.

Despite that daunting task, the organization will begin programming for older students with two Genders & Sexualities Alliance (GSA) clubs at a Manhattan high school in December. For now it will be similar to the programming they run with younger children.

“They will still be mostly storytelling, but with slightly longer books and more of a discussion and Q & A around the themes of the books, and also having the kids ask questions about drag and gender identity,” said Aimee.

The first book they will use is Born Bad by C.K. Smouha, a story about a wolf who wasn’t happy being a wolf and goes on a journey to transition to a life that makes him happier.

Despite the many inquiries about bringing the programs to schools, the visits don’t always happen, Aimee says. Often, teachers set the process in motion, but it is halted before the drag queen gets to the door.

“We don't have problems getting DQSH into libraries, but we have had problems getting it into schools,” she says. “In many cases, a teacher reaches out to us about wanting us to bring DQSH to the school, but then the school administration or the principal shuts it down. In most cases the school staff are afraid of parents complaining, but parents complain about all kinds of things. It's disappointing that schools aren't more willing to put the needs of the kids above the complaints of a small number of parents. In every school where we've actually done a DQSH, the teachers who were on the fence about it have ended up loving the program.

“I think it's just hard for a lot of people to believe that it's a totally age-appropriate and important program without actually seeing it. I think they also don't realize that programs like this can change kids' lives, or even save their lives. It's more than just fun.”

The drag queens hope to make a positive impact on the older kids. They have done some events for New York City high schooler and middle  schooler students in the past, including a GSA Summit, Aimee says, and they are prepared for the different kinds of questions a teenager might ask versus the three to eight-year-old in their typical audience. DQSH NYC board member Sydney Seifert, a social worker who has trained the drag queens in the past, will provide training for talking with teens about drag and gender.

DQSH NYC is also working on more new programming, hoping to branch out into makeup and sewing tutorials. Plus, Aimee says, they are considering starting a book club where teens and a drag queen read a book, meet, read an excerpt, and discuss it.

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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