A blog by Tom Gale a new LGBTQ+ writer in Salford, England
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there has been a bit of a brouhaha, regarding Drag Queens reading stories to children.
Back in December of 2019 a new initiative called Drag Queen Story Hour UK formed “to engage a child’s creativity and to teach acceptance whilst having a blast.” Quoting from their Facebook Page.
Originally launched in San Francisco in 2015, by author and activist Michelle Tea. The goal ‘to inspire a love of reading, while teaching deeper lessons on diversity, self love and appreciation of others.’
It was launched in the UK in 2019 by Sab Samuel aka Aida H Dee. A play on words drawing attention to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Which challenged him when he was at school, particularly in the area of reading.
As someone who did a B.Ed Primary (Hons) course at Edinburgh University in another life. I gained an understanding of child development and some of the disorders children acquire, that makes this challenging for them.
When doing lesson plans for my final placement. I included notes to look for children displaying behaviours, consistent with these disorders.
For my thesis, I chose to answer the question ‘How Do You Teach A Child To Read?’ Which at first was not given a high grade. However I presented a case persuading my tutor to rethink. Conceding that I had presented a good case and the grade was altered. I cited the Dean’s speech on our first day. This is an institute that welcome’s fresh thinking and new ideas. I believed them. Took them at their word. However it was just rhetoric. That was my case. I’m sure some of you were curious to know.
My answer in a nutshell was this ‘You can’t teach a child to read. What you can do is create an environment in which reading can occur. The teacher’s job to be alert to that moment when the child’s curiosity draws them in and to be their guide.’
As you know I am a classically trained musician and singer songwriter amongst other achievements. Maybe I’ll tell you more about that at another time.
Here is a personal story that for me attests to the validity of my thesis. Like so many other students at University I had to get a job as I had a wife and child to support. This was 1992-1995. A brand new ‘hypermarket’ owned by one of the big five had been opened on the outskirts of Edinburgh. An area called Cameron Toll.
It was 45 mins on the bus from where we lived. I worked three evenings and weekends usually Saturday. Often returning home exhausted ready for something to eat. A warm drink some quick reading catchup and bed.
What would you do if you were me and upon returning home your three year old child comes rushing towards you with so much excitement in their voice they can barely breathe properly. Telling you that they had written a new song.
‘A song. A whole song?’
‘Where did this song come from?’
‘It just popped into my head as I was giving Flopsy another sugar lump this afternoon. She was down in the dumps and I thought tea would cheer her up.’
‘Well that has to be one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever heard of. Just popped___’ and a did a popping sound with my finger in my cheek ‘into your head.’ we giggled together at the popping.
‘Well now this is a moment we must honour. How about I get out of these clothes. Freshen up a bit while I leave you to plan seating and stageing for the World Premier of My Clever Child’s new song.’
‘I know exactly what ribbon I can use___’ and was off.
I made a hat and tie out of crepe paper and stuck some stars on it.
‘You are a silly Daddy with that hat and tie.’ giggling betraying true feelings. But what they had done with coloured paper chains and ribbons was just as impressive. There was even a program with ‘My New Song’ written on glitter pen ink. I took them at their word.
They sang their song all about marching with lots of left, right, lefts and salutes and turns. I couldn’t have been proud.
‘It’s a pity that mummy had a headache and couldn’t join us. I love you Daddy.’
‘I love you too and I can’t wait to boast to all my friends about my child the song writer.’
‘That was wonderful darling. Thank you so much for sharing that with me. I have a lovely special memory that I can think about if I ever feel a little sad and it’ll melt the sadness away and in its place will be your face and that beautiful smile.’
‘You are soppy sometimes Daddy.’
‘Yes darling I am. But inside me is…oh no…it’s coming…the tickle moooonsteer. Collapsing in a giggling heap.
Though this is an anecdote about a song. I think you’ll agree songs are stories. All the things that we did together are all linked to development milestones and behavioural theories that I had been absorbing over a period of years.
So as a huge fan of reading from childhood and laterly a fan of Drag Queens. It sounded like a splendid marriage. Scheduled visits in my area. Rochdale and Bolton were cancelled by the borough councils. I had hoped to bob along and introduce myself as an LGBTQ+ writer. Longtime story teller.
The cancellations began in Brighton a few months before. The reason? Public safety. A group of fundamental right wing Christians had taken exception to ‘Queers’ reading to children. In much the same way the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas a ‘hate group’ know for engaging in homophobic and anti-American pickets. As well as hate speech against atheists, Jews, Muslims, transgender people and numerous other Christian denominations. You could say that their hatred was evenly spread over a number of groups and so was a touch more than your common old garden homophobia.
As I understand it was the rise of a group calling themselves Patriotic Alternative. As soon as I read that my writing mind was creating a mind map of synonyms for Patriotism. This is a small selection Nationalism, Fanaticism, Jingoism, Intolerance, Illiberalism, Xenophobia, Flag waving, Racism, Discrimination, Loyalty, Bias, Bigotry, Misogyny.
For want of a better phrase, groups like this have learned that if they shout their message loudly enough they will be heard. Well of course they are. But in a world of ‘woke madness’ and ‘social justice’ they are also pandered to.
We see photos of local and National leaders standing beside them. Not doing anything too drastic to add fuel to the fires of hate and intolerance. I guess there’s isn’t much tax that can be gotten from a few hours of storytelling. The audience aren’t old enough to vote. There aren’t many floating voters in a group of parents/ guardians of children attending the event. So they put on a charade of being allies/ pals of Trans Rights Activists or people where Diversity Hires are spun so that it becomes SEP (Someone Else’s Problem).
The voice that will never be heard above the cacophony is the quiet softly spoken words from ‘The Voice Of Reason.’
An alternative to the situation outlined might be similar to part of my thesis. To create an environment in which the ‘Voice Of Reason’ may be heard and listened to. Speaking personally I have been surprised at what I have learned or understood more fully by listening to the ‘Voice Of Reason.’
This will not be easy and will have to be given a great deal of thought and consideration.
To many reading this remember this is not a new initiative. It has been going since 2015. It isn’t one that hasn’t considered the safety of both its participants and audiences. All storytellers are DBS checked professionals and highly experienced with child entertainment.
As someone who up until a few weeks ago had no idea all of this was going on. There is a feeling that the coordinators of this event may not have had a Plan B. B for bigot. Or a Plan C.
As a former soldier I developed a respect to the effort put into presenting ‘sods law’ and considering what could be done should that occur. Or I could be doing them a complete dis-service. To be clear this is IMHO (others are available).
It may not feel like it but experience has shown that all haters turn their attention to someone else soon enough. So if all else fails. Hunker down, bolster each other, practice and hone your craft so that when do make your next appearance with all of this behind you. It could become a story the next generation will share.
There is no doubt in my mind that this is something too important to let go unchallenged. I’m sure I will get some ‘sweet’ replies and comments to this hot potato. So what? Is that a strong enough reason for me not to do it? Absolutely not. This is something I believe in very strongly and I cannot let it pass unchallenged.
Let the haters shout until their voices are hoarse, dry, red and sore. Let the world read and hear every word they spout because even in all that hate and vile words something of value will emerge.
Let us lead by example. Showing the world that we believe in free speech and show with quiet dignity and hope renewed. That around the globe grandparents/ guardians separated mostly be economic need start having zoom calls listening to their grandchildren describe what they learned from Drag Queen Story Hour.
Bless you all. Stay strong. Peace. Until our paths cross again.