A drag queen’s plan to encourage diversity by reading to children at a North Carolina library backfired this week after residents complained.
Brandon James, who goes by the drag name Princess Onya Mann and has been performing for 11 years, told local NBC affiliate WCNC last week that he’d applied to host a drag queen story hour at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. James, 30, appeared in a pink dress reminiscent of Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” and told WCNC that he was eager to host a story hour for kids because it would “open their minds to diversity, tolerance, and acceptance.” (Watch the full WCNC interview above.)
The colorful concept of drag queens reading to children in libraries, bookstores and schools reportedly began in San Francisco in 2015, and has since become a popular event in New York and Los Angeles, according to The New York Times. James’s hope to offer something similar to youngsters in the Tar Heel State, however, were dashed shortly after the WCNC segment aired July 27.
A conservative citizen group called Keep NC Safe blasted the news in a July 28 tweet.
The group also posted a story to its Facebook page, where it had received over 70 comments as of Thursday, many of them negative.
“Males dressing in women’s fashion or in a feminine manner is shameful and that sort of shameful behavior should not be sanctioned by public libraries, and least of all with a child audience,” one person wrote. Added another, “It will be like taking kids to gawk at the mentally ill in a circus. We need to help the mentally ill, not participate in the delusion.”
The news also caught the attention of Mecklenburg County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour, who said he was “appalled” by James’s plan in a comment beneath Keep NC Safe’s Facebook post.
The 30-year-old James, who currently resides in Pacolet, South Carolina but performs mainly in North Carolina, is gearing up for the release of his first children’s book, Auntie Bulli, this fall. He told HuffPost that he was “completely caught off guard” by the backlash that his plan received. “I was truly oblivious,” he said. “I mostly find it sad. I understand that super religious people would not be there supporting it, but to go the extra mile to fight it when you could just not come kinda shocked me!”
In an email to HuffPost, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s Director of Marketing, Communications & Advocacy Cordelia B. Anderson said that the drag queen’s original proposal simply didn’t meet programming guidelines. “We have a very specific way that story times are delivered, following best practices in the library industry,” Anderson wrote, “and these are typically delivered by trained staff, following those practices.”
She noted that the library “offers programs other than story times,” and that James would be invited to present Auntie Bulli as part of the next Presenter Showcase, in which authors, artists and other specialists offer suggestions for future events, in January 2018. WCNC had never contacted the library before airing the story, she added.
“The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, in its mission to improve lives and build a stronger community, believes in the value of programs as a way to improve literacy skills, support educational success, and bring people with diverse backgrounds and experiences together in a welcoming space,” she said.
Given how drag has infiltrated mainstream pop culture through “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” James believes it’s “essential to create events that not only inspire the [drag] community, but also involve them.”
“I never once considered that people might see [the story hour] as unsafe, because these events are held in a public area with parents in the room,” he added. “I now see that these groups are using fear and propaganda to scare parents away from bringing their kids… [it’s] a great opportunity for kids and their parents to experience diversity in a safe space as well as ask questions to become more comfortable and accepting.”