More than 250 attendees clapped and cheered at a panel discussion Thursday evening sparked by the Spokane Public Library’s scheduling of Drag Queen Story Hour.
The audience at the downtown library was mostly supportive of the decision to hold two events when drag queens will read to children.
Skyler Oberst, a public speaker and former member of the Spokane Human Rights commission, moderated the panel. Andrea Tate, who helped organize Drag Queen Story Hour in Spokane and performs as Tirrany Hex, spoke on the panel with fellow drag queen Nova Kaine.
Also on the panel were psychologist John Estelle; Lisa Logan, manager of Eastern Washington University Women’s and Gender Education Center; and Andy CastroLang, pastor of Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ.
Anna Bohach, creator of the 500 Mom Strong Facebook group that has opposed the event, was asked to be on the panel but said she felt unsafe attending and that she doubted the panel would fairly represent opposition to the drag queen readings.
While Drag Queen Story Hour has been controversial, there were no protestors at the community panel. Several security and police officers were on hand.
The panel discussed everything from the basic, “What is drag?” to the more complex “How do we move forward from here?”
“Drag is a performance art,” Nova Kaine said.
“We as queer people have the right to exist outside of adult spaces,” said Tate, of bringing drag to children.
Estelle joined the discussion, noting that more than 50% of LGBTQ individuals attempt suicide.
“I’m thankful there are people who are willing to show children a multiplicity of examples of how to go about gender,” Estelle said.
The panelists spoke about the confusion that often surrounds drag.
Many people are confused by drag and are afraid their children will be confused by drag, Oberst said.
“They’re adults that play dress up,” said Tate, suggesting a positive way to explain drag to children.
It’s about not letting confusion and fear prevent you from learning, CastroLang said.
“Let go of your pride,” CastroLang said. “Humble yourself and learn from others.”
With this discussion of gender identity and identity itself, concerns related to this event have related drag to blackface, Oberst said.
“We as Americans historically have a really messed up history with what we think is funny,” Nova Kaine said of blackface. “Drag is an entertainment and performance art. We are not making fun of anyone.”
It’s important to look at the cultural and social context when it comes to these two issues, Logan said.
Blackface was and is used to legitimize treating people as less than human, Logan said. It’s completely different as an example of an oppressed group expressing themselves, they continued.
The panel wrapped up with community questions and a sneak peek into books that will be read at Drag Queen Story Hour including, “Princess and the Pony” and “Not All Princesses Wear Pink.”
For attendee, Joy Fradin, the event left her feeling “more woke.” Fradin said the panel helped her better understand the differences between black face and drag.
“I thought it was really comprehensive even though I’m a supporter and ally of LGBTQ,” Fradin said. “I really was pretty ignorant about drag, so this demystified drag.”
Kelley Cullen attended the event with her 15-year-old daughter, Kady.
“When I first heard about it, I thought it was a great thing,” Cullen said of the story hour.
She attended the panel to find out what the controversy was about and also to learn more about drag.
“I really love watching drag performances and seeing people do transformations, because I really enjoy makeup,” said Kady, who was sporting rainbow eyeshadow.
“There’s this whole bigger community than what I knew of,” Cullen said.
Bohach called the panel “a joke.”
“They’re trying to re-educate the community that drag is OK,” Bohach said.
While Bohach and many of the moms in her group did not attend the discussion panel, they do plan to protest the Drag Queen Story Hour on Saturday.
The protestors plan to pray silently and sing hymns, along with bringing their own security, Bohach said.
The library will have additional security for Drag Queen Story Hour events, including a police presence. To attend the actual story hour, an adult must bring a child and the library would like to limit attendance to one parent or guardian per child.
The library plans to set up designated areas for protestors, library spokeswoman Amanda Donovan said.
The Drag Queen Story Hour will be 2 p.m. Saturday at the South Hill branch and 2 p.m. June 22 at the downtown library.
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