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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Libraries plan Drag Queen Story Hour, attract debate

UPDATED: Thu., June 6, 2019

The Spokane Library South Hill Branch is shown Sept. 18, 2018. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane Library South Hill Branch is shown Sept. 18, 2018. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Story time at the Spokane Public Libraries doesn’t normally attract protesters, or counterprotesters for that matter.

But two new activist groups – “500 Mom Strong” and “500 Drag Queen Strong” – plan to attend the Drag Queen Story Hour on June 15 at 2 p.m. at the South Hill branch. Drag Queen Story Hour is a New York-based nonprofit with chapters across the country.

“That’s the reason why we’re doing this story time in the first place,” Karis O’Malley, Spokane Public Library deputy director, said. “To lean into the controversy is what we’re trying to do, so that we give the community opportunity to have a conversation, maybe experience a bit of growth around the topic.”

Anna Bohach, who started a Facebook group called “500 Mom Strong” on Thursday evening, said she plans to have a 500-mother sit-in at the library during the event.

“Everyone I’ve talked to is offended by drag because it’s offensive,” Bohach said. “It’s rooted in misogyny, it started at the same time they were doing blackface. They would do minstrel shows to mock women and to mock African Americans and now it’s just become this grotesque display of an overtly sexual women, and it’s a mocking of women and femininity.”

Nicolette Ocheltree created the “500 Drag Queen Strong” Facebook group. Ocheltree is not a drag queen herself, but when she heard about the protesting, she said she knew it was important to immediately create a space in social media for the other side.

“I know there are a lot of people who want to gather around these people in support and I didn’t see a spot for it yet,” Ocheltree said. “I do respect their rights to protest, so I’ll be right next to them counterprotesting.”

In the group’s description, Ocheltree wrote, “We all could only hope to be so flamboyantly and radically ourselves.”

Andrea Tate coordinated with the library to put on this event, and as “Tirrany” will be one of the drag queens reading to the children. Her mother was a paraeducator, and Tate often helped with tutoring as a child.

“Educating kids about different kinds of ways they can be and exist in the world is something that’s been really important to me for a very long time,” Tate said. “Literacy amongst kids is something that’s really, really important to me, and as soon as I birthed ‘Tirrany’ I was really interested in bringing that component of my life and my experience into my drag arena, and combining the two.”

Tate said she is happy Spokane residents are exercising their rights to free speech, but was sad because “the info that’s being perpetrated is false and easily researched.”

Bohach said she is disturbed by the event because she believes it will show children a sexualized performance.

“It’s like a burlesque show, and it’s no different than having an erotic dancer strip and read a story for my toddler,” Bohach said.

Tate said dressing in drag is like any type of art: Some artwork is appropriate for children and some is not, and the story time event will be child appropriate. The library also said the event will be child-appropriate.

“It’s an art form and it encompasses all different aspects of human life,” Tate said. “There is drag that is acceptable to put in front of children, there is drag that is a little bit more adult-focused, just like there are paintings that are acceptable for kids to see and paintings that are maybe not so much acceptable.”

Ann Marie Danimus, who will participate in the counterprotest, said Bohach is trying to define what a man is and what a woman is.

“What is women’s clothing?” Danimus said. “We have kilts that are worn by Scotsmen, we have long robes that are worn by people who live in the Middle East. Are these not dresses? Jesus Christ himself is depicted as wearing a long robe, is he also a drag queen? He has long hair, I mean I doubt he was putting charcoal eyeliner and bright cherry lipstick on, but she is trying to define what other human beings are based on their dress.”

Days before the event, a moderated panel will take place on Drag Queen Story Hour. The event titled, Understanding Drag: A Community Conversation, will be at the downtown library on June 13 at 7:00 p.m. The panel will include a drag queen, a child psychologist, a gender studies professor, and a Christian minister.

“We’re going to have a thoughtful, respectful discourse on the different issues around drag queens, and what this program has presented, and hopefully just give everyone the opportunity to share their perspectives and learn a little bit about one another,” O’Malley said.

There will be a second Drag Queen Story Hour at the downtown branch on June 22 at 2 p.m.

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