Bethlehem library draws large crowd, community support for drag story hour
Drag story hours, where drag queens read books to children are becoming popular events in bookstores and libraries, but they're also at the center of the culture war.
The Bethlehem Public Library in Albany County held its first Drag Story hour on Thursday. The event sparked both excitement and controversy. An hour before showtime a crowd gathered in support at the entrance of the library.
Tom Schnurr, a Democrat running for Bethlehem town board said he wanted to show up for those who welcome and defend inclusivity.
“I think we're trying to leave as much room for kids that want to go, families that want to be a part of it, and we're just out here to let them know that they're supported and that this town stands with them,” Schnurr said.
Most people gathered outside the library were in support of the drag story hour but a few people did express opposition. Pastor Earl Wallace of Liberty Christian Fellowship Church questioned the events appropriateness for young children.
“I believe that if you're going to do an event like this, you should do it at 18 years or older. Because children are very malleable and confused. We saw a young man dress like a woman but he’s not dressed like a normal woman. He's dressed like a play woman. If he if wanted to be a woman, which is what they're trying to promote, why doesn’t he dress like that woman, like a normal woman,” Wallace said.
Tom Dootz disagreed with the use of the publicly owned library and funding involved.
“I think that this venue should not have been held here because it’s my tax dollars. I'm vehemently against it. My tax dollars went for it and I'm sure they got paid to do what they did today. And I'm absolutely against it. So, if we don't take stands as far as what our government does, or a little municipalities, if we don't take a stance, they're basically going to run off with our money,” Dootz said.
The drag story hour came just days after a charged Library Board meeting when about 60 people spoke both for and against the event. In response, supporters organized on social media to see that the drag story hour went ahead as planned.
As a line filled the foyer, staff members gave out buttons, stickers and feathered bows while issuing tickets to maintain the capacity limits of the performance space. Library Director Geoff Kirkpatrick said he was extremely pleased with the turnout.
“ I kept trying to stress to people, this is a children's story hour with children's books. And while we welcome everybody who wanted to come in, we didn't want to say, “Oh, only kids can go in”, we want to welcome everybody into the program. As many people as we could up to the fire code,” Kirkpatrick said.
Drag story hours are part of the library’s “All Together Now” summer reading program. Kirkpatrick sees the amount of attention the event has gathered as a good thing.
“The best outcome of all of this is that the amount of community engagement that I have had in the past month has exceeded the amount of community engagement that I've had in the past five years. So conversations explaining how the library works. How's the library governed? How was a library funded? Who are we affiliated with? You know, that the library is independent of the town, we are independent of the school district. So, I think a lot of people have learned about how the organization works, what's the point of the organization, and that there's a lot of other educational long-term goals, but that's a good outcome of this entire process,” Kirkpatrick said.
The star of the show was Noelle Diamond, who has been hosting story hours since 2018. Wearing a self-designed yellow vinyl dress featuring a distinctive school bus look, Diamond sang kids’ songs like the “Wheels on the Bus” and read books with themes of identity and rebuking established norms, including “Not All Princesses Dress in Pink” by Jane Yolen and Jessie Sima’s “Not Quite Narwhal”. Diamond said drag story hour is different from other types of drag performance like a drag brunch.
“I love the energy of a drag story hour, because it's just a bunch of children. It's very fun. It's very simple. If you make little mistakes, it really doesn't matter. They're just here to have fun. So that's all great, but I think the other part of it too is that I think of the impact that this sort of event would have on me if I was younger. So, a drag brunch is very fun, but I feel like there's more meaning behind a story hour. Children are having fun singing songs that are intended for children,” Diamond said.
Diamond will be back for another drag story hour at the Washington Ave Branch of the Albany Public Library on August 15.
NOTE: Post updated 2:00 p.m., July 15th, 2023.