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Drag Queen Story Hour offers a different kind of page-turner


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: And now to our "NewsHour" shares.

Storybook hours often seek to entertain young children, while inspiring a love of reading. But one organization is turning the tables on who is turning the pages.

The "NewsHour"'s Julia Griffin explains.

Julia Griffin: At the Adams Morgan Community Center in Washington, D.C. recently, parents and their tiny tots sat patiently, riveted by a storybook and its reader.

This is Drag Queen Story Hour. It's your classic children's reading program, with a twist: The day's literary leader is a larger-than-life drag queen.

Domingx: Everybody wave to each other. Make a friend next to you, OK?

Julia Griffin: Author Michelle Tea first created Drag Queen Story Hour in San Francisco in 2015. Its goal? To inspire a love of reading, while teaching deeper lessons on diversity, self-love and an appreciation of others.

Domingx: Everyone is different and everyone is not bad, said Scooter, who is a turtle. Different is special.

Julia Griffin: Today, readings take place at libraries, museums and other cultural centers in more than 30 cities across the country. Some are small affairs, but many, like the one in Washington, D.C., play to full houses.

Liz Fehrenbach: just love drag queens in general. It's a great opportunity to combine having a little one and enjoying, like, the performance of drag.

Audrey Iriberri: I think it's important that we see different people, that mom and dad look different from other people, and lots of people love you and have stories for you. And we can learn from everybody.

Julia Griffin: Johnna Percell is a children's librarian with D.C. Public Library.

Johnna Percell: It's just really been obvious that there was a need for this in our community.

Julia Griffin: The library partnered with the D.C. chapter of Drag Queen Story Hour to bring the family-friendly events to the nation's capital.

Johnna Percell: We talk a lot in children's literature about stories being both windows and mirrors, so Drag Queen Story Hour can be doing both. There may be a kid here who is seeing themselves reflected in a queen and see the possibility for what their lives could be, and then, if not, there's a child that's seeing how someone else lives.

Domingx: Let's try this with Neil's. Ooh, one down.

Julia Griffin: DomingX, who goes by J.J. Vera when not in drag, has been performing drag at local D.C. bars and theaters for more than three years. She first learned about the organization after other Drag Queen Story Hours faced pushback from community groups objecting to LGBTQ themes being presented to children.

New York City's Drag Queen Story Hour head, Rachel Aimee.

Rachel Aimee: A lot of Drag Queen Story Hours in other parts of the country have had serious backlash and people protesting their events and disrupting them and, in some cases, even events have been canceled.

Julia Griffin: The New York City chapter now runs the whole organization's Web site and social media channels, and sets guidelines for how to run Drag Queen Story Hour events.

Rachel Aimee: We do provide support and guidance to chapters who are facing that backlash.

Julia Griffin: In the Big Apple, Drag Queen Story Hours have become so popular that the chapter now offers events in Spanish and for children with autism and other special needs.

The chapter also hosts drag queen fashion design and makeup workshops for older kids. The point, Aimee said, is to create safe spaces for anyone interested in participating.

Rachel Aimee: LGBTQ kids often don't see themselves reflected in the broader culture, so it can be life-changing and even lifesaving to have that kind of affirming programming in their libraries and schools.

Julia Griffin: And for DomingX, whether the kids understood what a drag queen is wasn't the point. Instead, she was glad everyone seemed to enjoy the show.

Domingx: Drag Queens are just here to entertain. We can read. We're intelligent. Like, we are harmless.

And I just hope that, you know, moving forward, it kind of just, like, stretches those imaginations a little bit, to continue normalizing it and give people a little bit more fearlessness to take home with them.

Julia Griffin: Fearlessness, with a dash of fun.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Julia Griffin in Washington, D.C.

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