Drag Queen Story Hour draws protests in Southern California

It was story hour at the El Segundo Museum of Art on Saturday morning, pretty much your average story time for kids — except the storyteller was a drag queen.

About 30 children aged 3 to 8 and their parents attended while outside the library, about 10 protesters waved an American flag and held signs that said “No Drag Queens for Our Children” and “God Made 2 Genders.”

Protesters demonstrate outside the El Segundo Museum of Art Saturday, July 20, during Drag Queen Story Hour. (Photo by David Rosenfeld)

The event featured stories from picture books read by 26-year-old Joe Faragher, known in his professional drag queen persona as Pickle.

“Hi, my name is Pickle,” Faragher began, “and I am a drag queen.”

Dressed in a pink gown and wearing heavy makeup with a long blond wig, Pickle started in with the first story book called “Feminist Baby.”

“A feminist baby doesn’t care what she wears,” he said at one point, reading from the book.

Another book he read from was called “It’s Okay To Be Different.”

Faragher was personal and affectionate in his presentation, prompting the children with various questions as the stories went along. In an interview Friday, July 19, Faragher said he sees himself as a big Disney character.

“A drag queen is anyone who is dressing up for fun and is an entertainer,” he said.

The program, called Drag Queen Story Hour, is coordinated locally by the Los Angeles Public Library. It began in San Francisco four years ago and has since spread to 40 cities around the country, with drag queens reading to children at libraries, book stores, museums and coffee shops.

Faragher said he has presented as a drag queen to tell stories to children four-to-five times a month over the past two years and has, so far, not had any protesters

But that that was until Saturday, when conservative activists associated with the pro-family group MassResistance showed up to demonstrate at the El Segundo museum.

“This is the most ridiculous gross thing imaginable,” Arthur Schaper, who organized the protest, said on Friday. “They said this is about diversity and inclusion. Give me a break. Really?

“You have lots of people available who can speak about diversity,” he said.

“Why not aerospace and police officer story hour,” Schaper asked. “This is adult entertainment. I’m just shocked.”

A Drag Queen Story Hour in Long Beach drew similar protests in 2017 and another in the San Fernando Valley over the weekend was expected to draw protests.

El Segundo mother Joanna Bowe brought her two daughters aged 4 and 2, along with a friend, to the story hour on Saturday.

“I think it’s so cool that El Segundo has this space that’s exposing us to all sorts of art. It feels like so much more funky and progressive than other things I find in the South Bay,” Bowe said.

As far as what she expects the kids to get out of the program, Bowe said it doesn’t have to complicated.

“It’s about learning about connecting with all different kinds of people and having a good time,” Bowe said. “I don’t think it has to be deeper than that, especially at such a young age.”

Faragher said the point of Drag Queen Story Hour is not to antagonize anyone or talk about transgender issues.

Being a drag queen, in fact, is not the same as being transgender, though that conflation is a common misconception. Faragher, for example, identifies as a man and presents that way during the day, when he’s not working.

Faragher, who has been working solely as a professional drag queen for the past two years, said Drag Queen Story Hour is just about telling stories and having fun.

“The core values of being a drag queen are love, acceptance, laughter, joy and expressing yourself,” Faragher said. “These are values we want to teach to our children. We want to teach kids to be empathetic and express themselves and love one another.”

Surrounding Faragher has he read from the story books on Saturday was the museum’s current exhibit, called Oz, related to the Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the series of books by L. Frank Baum. Holly Crawford, the museum’s director of education, said the drag queen aspect fit with the museum’s message.

“We have always wanted to host a program with DQSH, and our current Experience OZ (exhibit) was the perfect setting because of its message of inclusiveness,” Crawford said Thursday, July 18. “Remember, Dorothy is a young girl who arrives in a new place and meets many different people who become her friends. Everyone is welcome in the land of Oz and we want to promote those same goals with our programs.”

Leading up to the event on Saturday, Crawford said she was aware of the planned protest. But for every complaint she has heard, there have been roughly 10 messages of support, she said.

“It’s really a program to show families and children that we want a world that’s accepting and empathetic,” Crawford said, “and this is a program that promotes these things.”

For Faragher, being a drag queen has become a lifestyle.

Faragher, who is also gay and knew his sexuality when he was 8 years old, said he started dressing up as a girl on occasion at about the same time. He said children can teach us a lot about acceptance.

“Kids,” he said, “are often a lot smarter, more accepting and more progressive than we want to give them credit for.”