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Drag Queen Story Time attracts 280 attendees, few dissenters 

click to enlarge Two sign language interpreters joined Sarah Bellum in telling the story of Marlon Bundo. - ALISSA SMITH
  • Alissa Smith
  • Two sign language interpreters joined Sarah Bellum in telling the story of Marlon Bundo.

On Saturday, Sept. 1, Club Q sponsored the city's first ever Drag Queen Story Time at the Pikes Peak Library District's Penrose branch in downtown Colorado Springs. In spite of the online controversy largely stirred by The Family Policy Alliance, organizer Joseph Shelton had no doubt that the event would go on as planned, nor was there any hesitation on the part of PPLD in asserting that the private event did not go against their policy.

According to Shelton, about 280 people showed up for the story time. Even spread over two large meeting rooms the library had to split the long waiting line up into two groups. Kids ranged in age from babies to preteens.

The first book read by Sarah Bellum, the host, was A Day In The Life of Marlon Bundo, the children's book created by the staff of the popular HBO comedy news show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. An obvious commentary on Vice President Mike Pence's anti-LGBTQ stance, the book tells the story of the same-sex marriage of Pence's pet rabbit, Marlon Bundo, and is meant to promote love and acceptance.

In spite of the online turmoil surrounding the event, few dissenters showed up to rabble-rouse in person. Reportedly, a woman stood by the library entrance passing out pamphlets from the American College of Pediatricians (an anti-LGBTQ group of pediatricians and health care providers, often unfortunately confused with the widely respected American Academy of Pediatrics) that contained transphobic and discredited myths about transgender individuals, but according to Kayah Swanson, PPLD's public relations specialist, the woman's protest was short-lived.

Supporters, however, were easy to spot. On the corner of the Penrose Library property, three young people showed up to offer support to the event and its organizers, hodling signs promoting LGBTQ equality. Their reason for being there: Apparently they had seen the controversy online, and wanted to show up to counter-protest if any dissenters showed up.

One of these supporters, Ingrid Korith said: “I'm from a small town in the Midwest, and we had nothing like this. It’s important to show up and support it.”

click to enlarge Three supporters showed up just in case of protestors. From left to right: Alexander Hail, Ingrid Korith, James Sisneros. - ALISSA SMITH
  • Alissa Smith
  • Three supporters showed up just in case of protestors. From left to right: Alexander Hail, Ingrid Korith, James Sisneros.

———- ORIGINAL POST: AUG. 30, 2018, 8:47 A.M. ———-

click to enlarge Sarah Bellum will read for a group of kids and families on Sept. 1 at Penrose Library to encourage diversity and understanding. - COURTESY JOSEPH SHELTON
  • Courtesy Joseph Shelton
  • Sarah Bellum will read for a group of kids and families on Sept. 1 at Penrose Library to encourage diversity and understanding.

It’s not revolutionary for a library to host story time for children. Our local libraries, in fact, host infinite variations on the concept, including pajama-themed, history-themed and the like. But one particular variation has drawn considerable backlash.

Drag Queen Story Time isn’t a new idea, necessarily, as libraries across the country have hosted “Drag Queen Story Hours" before. But the event on Sept. 1 at Penrose Library will be the first of its kind in Colorado Springs. The concept is simple: Drag Queens read stories about acceptance and love to groups of kids, hoping to help them understand the value of diversity. Local drag queen Sarah Bellum will be reading on Saturday.

“We make our meeting rooms available to members of the public,” said PPLD in a statement, “and the public is allowed to use them for any purpose they wish as long as it does not violate our Meeting Room Policy.” This statement, and the assurance that PPLD is not sponsoring the event, has not stopped groups like the Family Policy Alliance from circulating petitions to get the event cancelled due to its "inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars." Their petition allegedly has about 300 signatures.

Joseph Shelton, the organizer of Drag Queen Story Time (which is sponsored officially by Club Q), has no plans to give in to that petition. The support he has received for the event outweighs any negativity.

Shelton, who has lived openly in Colorado Springs since he was 17 years old, says: “Over time I’ve seen [the] LGBT community growing in support, and so I believe that putting this event on here would hopefully generate a little more support in the community, and bring out more people who are going to learn that we’re only human. ... It just helps kids learn a sense of acceptance in a community that tells them that these are the people you shouldn’t be near.”

He says that people are welcome to disagree with it (“we live in America.”), but “I’m not canceling because one person, or a couple people say they don’t like it.”

Shelton hopes this story time will be the first of many, depending on its attendance. He plans to host an event once a month with different drag queens from the community and the region.

“We’re out here,” Shelton says, “and we’re not going to hide who we are, and we’re happy with who we are. And we’re not going to back down no matter what.”

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