UPDATED (6/16/2022, 11:15 a.m.): This article was updated to include comments from Scott Arnold, the president of the Forsyth County Republican Men’s Club and to include statistics and data about LGBTQ+ communities.
UPDATED (6/16/2022, 8:50 p.m.): Updated to include an updated statement from Bookmarks.
Drag Queen Storytime will take place as scheduled according to organizers, after reports of a protest by the Forsyth County Republican Men’s Party made its rounds on social media this week. The event, which is scheduled for this Saturday at Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, drew the attention of members of the Forsyth County Republican Men’s Party who called the event a “perversion” and asked their members to “show up in force with signs.”
The posts quickly made the rounds online on Tuesday and Wednesday, prompting the organizers at Bookmarks, as well as Drag Queen Anna Yacht (pronounced “on a”), to speak out against the protest and ensure that the event was still taking place.
“I think it’s really unfair for people to speak on something that they absolutely nothing about,” said Anna Yacht, who volunteered to read books for the event. “If there is anything perverted about reading a children’s book to kids, then we have very different definitions of what that word means.”
Anna Yacht has been doing drag since 2015 and has hosted a number of drag events in Winston-Salem since moving to the city during the pandemic. Since October, she has been producing drag shows at Radar Brewing once a month. Yacht, who preferred not to use her real name for safety reasons, said that as a young, gay man who grew up in Davie County, seeing a drag queen as a child would have opened up her eyes at an earlier age.
“Oh my god, I would have thought it was the coolest thing ever,” Yacht said. “It wouldn’t have even been a draw to doing drag. It just would have been a fun, fascinating memory of seeing someone being themselves. Because being yourself doesn’t mean being a drag queen or being trans. It doesn’t mean being any one specific thing. It’s just about the freedom to express yourself the way you truly feel on the inside.”
For the last several years, drag storytimes have become popular at libraries and bookstores across the country. In 2015, a national organization called Drag Queen Story Hour was created to “celebrate reading through the glamorous art of drag.” According to their website, Drag Queen Story Hour has chapters all over the country and even hosts events internationally.
For Anna Yacht, the draw of doing drag as a white gay man was that it provided her with a creative outlet that let her express her authentic self.
“I just remember being really uplifted,” Yacht said. “It elevated an art form that I loved and combined fashion, hair and makeup and performance and stage shows.”
The elevated visibility of LGBTQ+ culture, including drag culture, has caused pushback from conservative and right-wing entities nationwide. For the past several years, conservatives have targeted the LGBTQ+ community, particularly transpeople, and scapegoated them as dangers to children. In recent years, legislation has been passed that aims to restrict what can be taught in schools and infringes on the rights of LGBTQ+ youth and their parents.
Earlier this week, there were reports of members of the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, storming into a Los Angeles library to protest a Drag Queen Story Hour.
Reached by phone on Thursday morning, Scott Arnold, the president of the Forsyth County Republican Men’s Club, said that the group is protesting the event because it is “too sexual in nature.” Arnold said that he’s not the organizer of the event but just the spokesperson. He argued that there is a growing national concern amongst conservatives that events like this will confuse children and possibly make them transgender.
“Children are confused enough in our world as it is with this particular issue of which gender they are and this just adds to more confusion and encourages more confusion,” Arnold said.
To listen to the full call with Arnold, play the video below.
Editor’s note: Scott Arnold makes transphobic comments during the call.
According to the American Psychological Association, transgender people have existed for centuries and “experts believe that biological factors such as genetic influences and prenatal hormone levels, early experiences, and experiences later in adolescence or adulthood may all contribute to the development of transgender identities.”
Despite what Arnold and other conservatives may argue however, organizers say the event is not about converting children to become transgender. It’s about showcasing different ways of expressing oneself. LGBTQ+ youth are also more than twice as likely to feel suicidal and over four times as likely to attempt suicide compared to heterosexual youth and seeing themselves reflected in society can act as a mental health boost.
“I think it is so important to not allow people to bully you into submission when you have something to spread that’s positive,” Yacht said. “Being silenced is going backwards as a society.”
As a child, Yacht shared how they were put into anti-gay therapy because her parents didn’t understand her.
“I was just confused because in my mind, I wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Yacht said. “I didn’t even know that I was gay, but there was all this pressure for me to change.”
That’s the main reason why Yacht and others are continuing to hold this event, she said. It’s to show kids that it’s okay to be themselves.
“I think kids have such an innocent and an open mind to what is natural,” said Erick Brox, the founder of Queer Winston. “And us as queer people, it is natural to be us; we are born this way. It is part of nature, and kids have a really easy way of justifying that.”
Brox, who was raised in Winston-Salem and identifies as a gay, Mexican man, said that they are planning a counterprotest to act as a barrier against the conservative group.
“The idea is to get as many people out there as possible so there’s more of us than them, and to create a barrier so the kids feel safe,” Brox said. “We want to distract from the protest because we want these kids to have a very natural way of growing up. We want to show what love actually is, as opposed to the conservative way of thinking that a man is only one way or a woman is only one way, or marriage is only one way.”
And it’s even more important to host the event because it takes place during Pride month and during Pride weekend in Winston-Salem, Brox said.
“We do recognize the right to freedom of speech, but there’s a difference between freedom of speech and hate speech,” Brox said. “And with hate speech against marginalized groups, there should always be a counter speech that combats the hate with love. With Juneteenth and Pride being this weekend, we as Queer Winston-Salem want to show that we are not going to stand for hate speech.”
For those that want to show up to support the storytime, Brox suggested wearing bright colors and not engaging with the protesters.
“We want to bring a more positive energy for our community rather than be against the other community,” Brox said. “The last thing we want is combative signs of ‘We’re right, You’re wrong.’ We want to lead by example.”
Yacht agreed with Brox about engaging with the protesters as little as possible.
“The fact that they are being so negative shows they’re wanting a fight,” she said. “We’re not going to fight with them; we’re just going to stand our ground.”
In a statement to Triad City Beat, Bookmarks said that they are holding the event as scheduled.
“Bookmarks has always been a place of inclusivity, and we’re proud to uphold those values
during Pride Month,” said Jamie Southern, executive director of Bookmarks. “The Drag Queen Storytime is a fun event that has always been successful. We value all books and all voices, despite what may be going on in our world at the time. The focus should always be on the kids and their enjoyment, which is exactly what drove us to ask Anna Yacht to join us.”
Bookstore staff also thanked the community for their support and that they are happy to be a place that fosters self expression.
“Everyone, regardless of their political ideologies or opinions, deserves access to books and the
right to self-expression,” the statement reads. “Bookmarks looks forward to welcoming even more readers—of all ages, backgrounds, and genders—this weekend and in the weeks and months ahead.”
Going into the weekend, Yacht said that the outpouring of support she’s received in just the last day has been heartening.
“I feel very proud of how amazing our community has been at coming together and standing up for what’s right,” Yacht said. “It makes me very proud to live in Winston-Salem and to see the majority of the people I’ve come in contact with be on the right side of history. It’s an honor to be able to see that firsthand.”
To learn more about Drag Queen Storytime at Bookmarks, visit the website here. Follow Anna Yacht on Instagram at @annayacht and Queer Winston-Salem on Facebook and Instagram at @queerwinstonsalem.
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