‘Say YAAAS to reading’: Library event will feature drag queens and picture books

Local drag queens will read picture books aloud at the Wichita Public Library next week during an event billed for adults but designed for all ages.

“Say YAAAS to Reading!” — 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Advanced Learning Library, 711 W. Second St. — will feature men in drag reading popular children’s books.

The event is similar to “Drag Queen Story Hour,” which began in San Francisco in 2015 and features a mix of gay pride and kid-friendly entertainment. The concept has been replicated in libraries and bookstores across the country, including in Lawrence.

Local officials said the Wichita library had been looking to diversify program offerings and appeal to groups who are not active users of the library.

“The idea . . . is to see if it will help us increase our connection with the LGBTQ community,” library spokeswoman Jennifer Lane said in an email.

The library’s calendar lists the event as being for adults, but officials said families should use their judgment when deciding whether to bring children. It is free and being held at no cost to the library, Lane said.

The event also is being promoted by Wichita Pride as part of a week of festivities leading up the annual LGBTQ Pride Parade on Sept. 30.

Similar library story hours have sparked protests in parts of the country, with opponents arguing that drag queens — men who dress in elaborate female makeup and clothing for entertainment — aren’t appropriate for young children.

Brad Thomison, a Wichita performer who plans to participate as his drag-queen alter-ego, Divinity Masters, said the event celebrates self-expression and encourages tolerance and acceptance.

He plans to read one of his favorite books from childhood — “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle.

“I think the sooner we can introduce diversity to our children, the more open-minded they will be as they get older,” said Thomison, the LGBTQ coordinator for Wichita State University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

“These conversations can sometimes be scary because we don’t know how kids will respond. But time and time again, they prove to be 10 times more open-minded than adults and sometimes more willing to just let people be uniquely themselves.”

Lane, the library spokeswoman, said the Wichita event was discussed with the library’s board of directors, “who were supportive of the offering.”

“The most controversial thing about similar events (elsewhere) has been when they have been created and offered as a storytime format for children,” Lane said. “This is not promoted as a storytime in order to ensure that there is no confusion about that. It is . . . an event that has been planned for adults.”

The popularity of drag queens is on the rise. Earlier this year, the Broadway musical “Kinky Boots” performed to huge crowds in Wichita. And just this week, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” made Emmys history by taking awards for outstanding reality competition and outstanding reality host.

Liz Hamor, co-founder of GLSEN Kansas, said she’s glad the Wichita library scheduled the event, and she hopes families and people of all ages will attend the program.

“It’s incredibly important that children see the diversity that exists throughout the world,” said Hamor, whose organization seeks to make schools safer for LGBTQ youth.

“Dress-up and gender performance are things that children know well,” she said. “Having drag queens read to children is a fabulous way to undo gender norms and validate the gender exploration that is already normal for children.”