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Drag storytime kicks off Pride Month at Cambridge Public Library

6/1/20242 weeks ago

Dr. Karen Tang in conversation with Schuyler Bailar

This article was originally published in the Boston Globe. Article by Sean Cotter. Photos by Craig F. Walker. 

Briar Blush picked up the book “Twas The Night Before Pride,” but paused for a quick moment to adjust her wardrobe.

“I have to take my gloves off first,” Blush said to the three dozen kids assembled before her. “They’re not great for turning pages.”

She tugged the long red gloves off and got to it, imparting a kid-friendly version of the 1969 Stonewall Inn riot via a sing-song rhyme scheme borrowed from “Twas The Night Before Christmas.”

For the sixth year in a row, the Cambridge Public Library kicked off Pride month by turning its typical Saturday-morning read-along activity into a drag-themed storytime for kids.

Such events have drawn protests in other locations amid national clashes around gay rights and gender identity, but in Cambridge, one of the state’s most liberal cities, the story hour was calm and, aside from the occasional cranky child, cheerful.

The drag performer, Briar Blush, goes by “she” and “her” pronouns while in drag. Briar’s given name is Micael Donegan, of Roxbury, and generally identifies as queer.

On Saturday morning, she sat at the front of the children’s room, a large red bow on her head. She wore a polka-dot dress and red heels. She read a half-dozen books about drag and Pride Month, many of whose rhyming schemes mirror popular children’s songs.

“If You’re A Drag Queen And You Know It,” was set to the rhythm of “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” and, “The Hips of the Drag Queen so swish, swish, swish,” followed the cadence of “The Wheels on the Bus.”

Some stories offered lessons on how a child can feel comfortable attending a Pride parade or depicted families with same sex parents.

“We want people to see themselves reflected in the literature,” said Director of Libraries Maria Taesil Hudson McCauley, explaining the importance of such a special event.

Across the country, June is Pride Month, celebrating the LGBTQ+ community. Pride events fill the whole month in the Boston area, with the largest being the Boston “Pride for the People” festival and parade at Copley Square on June 8 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Pride celebrations around the country grew out of the Stonewall Inn uprising in New York, as depicted by the first of the books that Briar Blush read. Organizers say the parade in recent years has brought roughly 1 million visitors to Boston.

While conservative critics have balked at drag storytime hours and other LBGTQ+ events for children, Blush said she finds the thinking to be self-centered.

“I definitely don’t do drag for anyone else,” she said. “There’s no agenda to this. I just like these dresses.”

She said she hopes kids’ real takeaway from this is that people they encounter all aren’t going to be the same — and that that’s OK.

“Queer people are to be respected, just like everyone else,” she said.

Blush said she believes some of the fears around drag come from a misunderstanding of it.

Think of drag, Blush said after the event, as a broad category like movies. Some are great for kids — wholesome Pixar-type content. Others are rated R, she said, and not meant for children. Such, she said, is the spectrum of drag.

“We contain multitudes,” she said, paraphrasing the famous Walt Whitman line for at least the second time that day.

Gina Josette Rivera and Janie Baxter, a married couple, brought their three-year-old son, Remi Rivera Thakore. The toddler is in a phase where he asks “why” about everything.

Saturday’s storytime gave him one important answer.

“He’s like, ‘That’s you, that’s me,’” Baxter said.