Drag Queen Story Time reader in Kelowna, B.C., thanks supporters upon return

Supporters of a Drag Queen Story Time gather in Kelowna, B.C., for a event on Saturday, Jan. 28. It was the first time a drag queen had read at the library since 2019. (Tom Popyk/CBC News - image credit)
Supporters of a Drag Queen Story Time gather in Kelowna, B.C., for a event on Saturday, Jan. 28. It was the first time a drag queen had read at the library since 2019. (Tom Popyk/CBC News - image credit)

Hundreds of supporters cheered on the reader at a Drag Queen Story Time in Kelowna, B.C., on Saturday, while a small group of protesters targeted the event, which returned following controversy.

It was the first time a drag queen had read at the library since 2019 when the Okanagan Regional Library's CEO spoke out against it, saying it could be divisive.

Following the first Drag Queen Story Time, an ideological battle broke out between the library board, librarians, drag queens, politicians, and parents, forcing the community to re-assess the role of libraries, and where drag queens fit into such public spaces.

On Saturday, Drag Queen Freida Whales — performed by Tyson Cook — was back after two readings in 2019.

Tom Popyk/CBC News
Tom Popyk/CBC News

Cook said he was touched by the welcome Whales received from hundreds of people waving rainbow flags and holding signs that read, "Drag story time safer than church," "You see a dress as sexual, sounds like a you problem," and "Support your local drag queens."

"It was definitely hard coming out of the parkade and not getting emotional because it was," said Cook on Saturday. "I was literally like a celebrity walking in ... and everyone was cheering for me. It was amazing to see."

Detractors of the events argue that cross-dressing storytellers could indoctrinate or sexualize children, while supporters say the glitzy story times aim to celebrate diversity in a safe space, saying it's prejudice — not drag queens — that hurts children.

The events that have been held across North America since 2015 as a way to create diverse, accessible, and culturally-inclusive family programming.

Tom Popyk/CBC News
Tom Popyk/CBC News

A small group of protesters at the event in Kelowna on Saturday confronted the supportive crowd outside the library as police looked on.

Protesters yelled and held signs that said, "Stop sexualizing children, drag is adult entertainment," "Parents have rights ... stop SOGI123," and "Trust the science, there are only two genders, leave the children alone."

'He just wants to hear the story'

The opposition did not keep parents and children away, however.

"It's just like a fun time with a character that is telling a story and is really interesting for the kids," said parent Cara Hills.

"So when I told my son that we were coming back he was just really excited. And he knows nothing of what's going on. He just wants to hear the story."

Another parent, Tara Taite, also spoke in support of her local library hosting the event.

"I think it's good to expose kids to all different ways of life and fun ways of being and just enjoying yourself."

Tom Popyk/CBC News
Tom Popyk/CBC News

Danielle Hubbard, CEO of the Okanagan Regional Library, said having a drag queen read at the library is part of a monthly readers program where volunteers from the community headline the event.

She estimated 300 people came to hear Whales read on Saturday.

"It's fantastic," she said. "Clearly, there's a lot of support for a diverse event like Drag Queen Story Time."

Hubbard said after the controversy in 2019, the library's board changed the policy to unequivocally allow events like Drag Queen Story Time.

"It's supporting our gender-diverse families. That's a segment of the population that has struggled a lot with representation."

Hubbard said the protesters voicing their opposition to the event did not detract from the story time.

"I think we're very fortunate in Canada to live in a society where people have the freedom to express their views and their opinions," she said. "I'm really pleased and relieved that from what we're seeing outside, it's peaceful on both sides of the divide."

Meanwhile Whales said she has seen a growing amount of support for the event in Kelowna and is looking forward to coming back.

"Our pride has been growing every year as well. So I mean, our community is just getting bigger and bigger. There's more and more allies that support us."