Apparently, children and their parents can go enjoy a different sort of storytime at the Vancouver Community Library on Feb. 9. This one will be rainbow-colored, all-inclusive, costume-positive and simply fabulous.
If your notion of storytime leadership is a mousy librarian intoning something tranquil, like “Goodnight Moon,” take another look.
The Feb. 9 reader will be a Portland nightclub star who hails from Vancouver. Her stage name is Clare Apparently, and she’ll be decked out in full drag. The event is called Drag Queen Story Hour.
“We haven’t settled on the books yet,” Apparently said, “but they’ll probably be about diversity and acceptance and friendship across differences. We’re working off lists that were compiled by the national organization with the help of professional children’s librarians.”
That national organization, launched in 2015 in San Francisco, has now spread Drag Queen Story Hours to many libraries across the nation — including Portland and even Longview.
IF YOU GO
What: Drag Queen Story Hour.
When: 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Feb. 9.
Where: Vancouver Community Library, 901 C St.
Admission: Free. Priority admission for families with children.
Vancouver library officials call Drag Queen Story Hour an effort to reach out and make marginalized people in our community feel safe and welcome. It’s a way to teach tolerance, teach self-acceptance and prevent bullying, they said.
“As an organization, we feel it’s an important part of our mission to look at equity, diversity and inclusion,” said Amelia Shelley, executive director of the Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries system. “We want to normalize the message that everybody is different.”
That’s the same message the library tries for with its materials collection and its other programs, from English as a Second Language to computer-coding classes, staff development coordinator Blake Kincaid added: responding to community needs and representing diverse points of view. Drag Queen Story Hour “is just an extension of what we do with our collection,” Kincaid said.
But here’s one key difference: officials said no taxpayer dollars will be spent on the event, which is supported entirely by funds from the independent Friends of the Vancouver Community Library group. Not tapping public money for a happening that some people find objectionable was a careful decision, Kincaid said.
“This is not a regular storytime, which we have all the time,” Kincaid said. “This is a special event and we’ll evaluate it afterwards. It’s not for every single family, but for families who feel a need and choose to attend.”
Because it’s historically been an “invisible need,” Shelley added, our whole culture is climbing a learning curve about gender identity and fluidity now. New visibility provokes “deep-seated feelings people have about gender identity,” she said. “It’s certainly generated more interesting comments than I would have expected.”
On Facebook, those comments range from “Yay!” to “Disgusting.”
“This atrocity has already spread like a plague to libraries throughout the Portland area,” one commentor wrote. “This must not be tolerated!”
Heidi St. John, a Christian motivational speaker based in Vancouver, hinted at a live protest: “Are you ready to get off the bench? The fact that this is being pushed on our kids is a tragedy, and it will not stop until people are willing to stand up to this wicked agenda!”
“Have sign, will travel,” another commentor responded.
Because space is limited and the event is intended for children and families who will appreciate it, priority admittance will be given to families with children, according to senior public services librarian Kari Kunst.
The library is not pushing anything at anyone, public services director Amy Lee emphasized, just meeting existing community needs. “All public libraries try to cover community needs. We are giving this one a try,” she said.
Unlike public schools, Shelley said, the library’s mission is to provide for everyone, but not parent anyone. When it comes to attending events, borrowing materials and exposing children to new ideas, she said, “We expect parents and caregivers to make those choices.”
Another Facebook commenter said: “In the words of my 9 year old, if you don’t like it, don’t go. But don’t be rude.”
Not a nightclub act
Clare Apparently grew up as Kit Crosland, a Vancouver native who attended Evergreen High School.
“I know from talking to some of the teachers as an adult, it was in their contract that they would lose their employment if they ever told a student they were gay” (until such discrimination was banned), she said.
“That’s how, on the institutional level, we limit role models for LGBTQ children and teenagers. That’s the sort of lack that could have been filled in by community and library events. I would have appreciated it so much when I was a child.”
Apparently said Vancouver’s Drag Queen Storytime will be completely age-appropriate — not a racy nightclub act. Apparently granted that some online objections “aren’t completely baseless,” because the nighttime drag world is “very adult-focused. It’s all about adult things, and that’s great in the right environment.”
But Apparently, who has worked with youth at social service nonprofits and elementary schools, said Drag Queen Storytime will be nothing but child-oriented. “I know how to hang out with kids. I know how to make the transition from 21-and-up drag queen to child appropriate,” she said.
“A large part of my drag is about playfulness,” Apparently said. “I always think of recapturing the energy of being 5 years old, turning on a radio and dancing in the living room in front of the mirror. The freedom and joy of loving that song, loving yourself, dancing in your body, letting it all out. That’s the direction I take my drag — recapturing the joy of childhood that’s been pressured out of us.”