By Gary Ghayrat and Kiara Thomas
About 35 parents and their elementary-school children attended a story time reading that challenged gender stereotypes at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington on April 13. The host was New York City’s Premier Mermaid Drag Performer Bella Noche, who wore a black sequin mermaid dress and a crown of green gems.
At the event, Bella Noche, a member of the Drag Queen Story Hour organization, read three LGBTQ-friendly books, including “Love the World,” by Todd Parr, “Julián is a Mermaid,” by Jessica Love and “Just Add Glitter,” by Angela DiTerlizzi. In between readings, Bella Noche entertained her audience with activities, including Simon Says.
“There’s so many rewarding things that I’ve gotten from doing it,” Bella Noche said. “I think one of the most rewarding things is showing kids that dress up doesn’t have to stop when you grow up… imagination doesn’t stop when you’re not a kid anymore.”
Drag Queen Story Hour is one of the ways through which the LGBTQ community has been incorporated into child entertainment. In June 2018, Drag Tots, a cartoon centered around baby drag queens voiced by former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants aired on the streaming network WOW Presents Plus. In September “Sesame Street” writer Mark Saltzman revealed that Bert and Ernie, two of the most popular characters of the puppet show, were a gay couple. But, educating children about the LGBTQ community still remains controversial on Long Island.
On April 10, an anonymous email was sent to the organizers of Patchogue’s LGBTQ festival Alive After Five, threatening that there will be “trouble” if the event returned this summer. The festival will not be canceled, officials said. The event is set to begin on June 27 and continue for four non-consecutive Thursdays with more security.
“Change takes time but the newer generation is definitely being exposed to more diversity in their literature and their tv shows,” Jane Pashman, who worked in advice anti-bias education with the Anti-Defamation League for 12 years, said.
During the story hour, children mostly in between the age of two and 11 were jumping out of their seats to answer the questions the Drag Queen posed: do you like glitter? Do you like mermaids?
“Like any other job, it trains you how to sit with proper posture, and how to hold the book so that the kids can see it,” Bella Noche said. “There’s all these different learning levels with when it comes to age groups, that you need to be mindful of.”
Eight-year-old Becky Pashman said she has never seen a drag queen before but thought she was “cool.”
“I liked it because there was lots of glitter and mermaids,” Becky said raising up her hands in the air. “It’s cool because it shows that people could be whatever gender they want to be.”
Long Island had its first Drag Queen Story Hour event at the Port Jefferson Free Library in September. The event was also Drag Queen Harmonica Sunbeam’s first experience of a protest aimed at Drag Queens like her. About thirty people with their children carried signs on the sidewalk that read “Stop Promoting Gender Confusion.” Police officers from the sixth precinct were called to oversee the protesters.
“Huntington itself is more of a queer community than Port Jefferson,” Staci Ertel, a member of Pride for Youth in Bellmore and attendee at the event, said.
Huntington’s Heckscher Park was known for PrideFest, which the organizer Long Island LGBT Network moved to Long Beach and expanded the event to three days in 2017.
“I thought it was the perfect introduction to showing my kids what a Drag Queen is like and letting them learn that we can have story time from all different types of people,” Molly England who brought her three children said. “We talked a little bit about what a Drag Queen was, but to see one in real life was a great learning experience for them.”
Bella Noche is scheduled to return to the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington in June for another story hour. This time the event will be longer with an arts and crafts activity for the children.