Portsmouth libraries to host Drag Queen Story Hour reading sessions teaching ‘creativity’ and ‘inclusivity’ to children despite pushback

CONTROVERSIAL library events are set to take place tomorrow as Southsea, North End, and Central libraries will welcome children to a series of free storytime events – led by drag queens.

Thursday, 4th August 2022, 5:07 pm

The reading sessions will be hosted by a performer from Drag Queen Story Hour, which is touring to libraries nationwide.

Organisers say the story sessions aim to ‘show the world that being different is not a bad thing, and by providing imaginative role models for children to look up to, we can change the world book by book’.

Councillor Suzy Horton, cabinet member for children, families and education, said: ‘The Drag Queen Story Hours are an opportunity to use children’s creativity and love for stories to introduce them to ideas about inclusivity in an age-appropriate way.

Southsea Library in Palmerston Road. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

‘Families will also be able to take the opportunity to sign up for this year’s summer reading challenge or choose some new books to enjoy.’

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However, the announcement of the upcoming sessions has been met with anger from some.

Protests have disrupted similar events in several libraries, including London, Bristol, and North Walsham - and children attending a Drag Queen Story Hour at a library in Reading were left frightened by screaming and shouting from protestors.

Two were arrested outside Hove Library today during one such protest.

Portsmouth City Council says it has plans in place to ensure tomorrow’s events go as smoothly as possible with partner agencies and additional security provision if required.

Social media users have called the events ‘inappropriate’ for children.

The Women’s Rights Network, which says its main focus is ‘to defend the sex-based rights of women’, has launched a petition opposing the events.

A spokeswoman for the organisation said: ‘Drag reinforces the idea that women are defined by clothes, hair and makeup.

‘And drag queens act out these stereotypes with such an extreme and sexualised appearance that no woman presenting this way would be allowed to read to children.

Libraries and schools should be places of trust, but they are where children are being taught gender ideology as fact.

‘Drag further normalises this in the adult world and confuses them.

‘It makes the unacceptable behaviour of adults to children outside these settings harder to challenge.

‘And when we deliberately blur the sex binary, we are telling children not to trust what they can see and hear.’

Portsmouth City Council previously took part in the virtual national Drag Queen Story Hours during lockdown, which were well received by many Portsmouth families.

Councillor Steve Pitt, cabinet member for culture, said: ‘We are committed to supporting diversity, as well as developing children’s love of reading, so I am really pleased that the summer tour is visiting our city.’

DBS checks are performed regularly for Drag Queen Story Hour story-tellers, who are also trained in child-to-performer interaction as well as inclusivity training for audience members who may have physical or mental disabilities.

Cllr Horton added: ‘All content is age-appropriate, and the events are taking place in open library areas in full public view.

‘In line with all our library events involving children, the performer will be accompanied at all times by library staff at each session and we ask that children attending the event must be accompanied by parents/carers at all times.’