Franklin College saw something new Thursday. It was called “Dragnificent — Drag Queen Story Time.”
In years past, the extended Franklin College community gathered for a live drag show hosted by the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. Old Main’s Custer Theatre is typically packed to the brim with students and faculty eager for an entertaining show.
Well, this year, the Franklin community packed into a Zoom waiting room.
Co-sponsored by the Franklin College Pride Alliance, the book reading event was geared specifically towards LGBTQ+ youth, because many of those children lack the chance to hear stories about people with whom they can identify. The event further promoted topics of self-love and diversity.
Terri Roberts-Leonard, director of the college’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion, emphasized the importance of role models.
“LGBTQ+ youth often don’t see themselves reflected in the broader culture, so affirming programing can be life changing,” Roberts-Leonard said.
Still, event host Avery Leigh, who has hosted Franklin’s annual drag show several times, assured the audience that everyone would be able to find meaning in the stories.
“You don’t have to be somebody in the LGBTQ community or in another multicultural community. You don’t have to be somebody who is a minority or different to pick up the messages from these books,” Leigh said.
The stories touched on topics of family arrangements, inclusivity, cross-dressing and activism. Leigh was joined in reading by guests Cherri Poppins, Missy Shades, and Grandma Elseylita, played by Assistant Director of Residence Life Russel Norris. Roberts-Leonard’s daughter, Jaylynn, also read one of her favorite books. The book lineup included “Antiracist Baby,” “Woke Baby,” “All Are Welcome,” and “Heather Has Two Mommies.”
While the event might be a first for Franklin, drag queen story hours can be found in cities all over the United States. Functioning like any other public reading, they are usually held in public spaces—such as libraries and parks—and are often oriented toward children. The goal of drag queen story hours is to highlight vibrant individuals who can serve as role models to children and teach them that differences among people do not pose a threat.
While they have become a trend nationwide, not everyone is a fan. On some occasions, adults have protested the events, arguing children should not be exposed to LGBTQ+ influence.
But Leigh said that everyone knows what it feels like to be isolated and rejected, and this should allow others to understand and accept those who are different. She asked the viewers to remember that everyone is a drag queen from time to time.
“Everything that we put on is our drag. When you put on your favorite shirt and it makes you feel good, you’re putting on drag,” Leigh said.
Leigh hopes that people will gradually move towards being more accepting of others. Roberts-Leonard echoed that point.
“We’re not drag, but we are all queens,” Roberts-Leonard said.