Hundreds of locals attended a national community event over the weekend called Drag Queen Story Hour. The event has been at the center of recent controversy after the mayor of Sparks and the Nevada Family Alliance complained that it should be canceled. KUNR’s Stephanie Serrano spoke to one of the queens who read books to the children at Sparks Library.
Getting to know Christopher Daniels
Christopher Daniels has spent the last 10 years in Reno. He’s the executive director of Good Luck Macbeth, a local theater agency. He grew up in Detroit, Michigan and eventually attended college in Wisconsin, a time when he describes himself as a blossoming full-time gay, which really allowed him to understand himself.
“For so much of your life, you created this false identity, this false person that people fell in love with and knew and liked, and coming out almost has this added fear attached of who are you really,” Daniels said. “You spend so much of your life lying to people and so much of your life creating this fabricated version of yourself [that] when you come out you’re like, ‘Great, okay, I like men; I’m gay--fabulous.’” But also, ‘Who am I on top of that?’ I'm not just this identity, but I haven't given myself the opportunity to fully explore who I am.”
Daniels was fully experiencing his life as a young gay man in the early 2000s, a time when LGBTQ+ community rights were being addressed across the nation. For him it was important to be politically active, so he chose to surround himself with activists and grassroots mobilizers.
“I love people who are passionate about causes that serve to help everyone and that work for equity for everyone because it is so disheartening and emotionally crushing that there are folks in this country who feel that because of who you love or what you believe or how you identify, the color of your skin, whatever it may be, that you deserve less than what you deserve as a human being,” Daniels said.
In 2004, he stepped into the world of drag when his friends decided to go to their favorite gay club in makeup and $9 party store wigs. There's only one photo with evidence of this night because Daniels said they looked ‘horrendous,’ but that's when he knew he fell in love with something special.
“Drag queens are this fictitious, almost over-the-top, representation of femininity, but I don't see myself as a drag queen as parroting women,” Daniels said. “I see myself as this being that expresses herself how she wants to, when she wants to, unapologetically and unabashedly. She's brave and she's fearless but has such compassion and such heart in how she moves through this world, and drag queens are these gender warriors that are so comfortable in their own skin.”
Miss Ginger Devine heads to the Drag Queen Story Hour
The morning of the Drag Queen Story Hour, Daniels was in the middle of a glam session to become Miss Ginger Devine. After slipping on a pair of sparkly silver heels and a ball gown covered in gems, with a tiara to top off the look, Miss Ginger Devine headed to the event.
When Miss Ginger Devine arrived at the library, hundreds of community members gave a warm welcome. The room where the story hour was being held hit its capacity of 110 people within 15 minutes, and the line was still wrapping around the building and down the street.
Jeff Scott, the director of the Washoe County Library System, said ultimately 600 people showed up.
The controversy that’s been brewing online
The conversation about planning the event started in October but it wasn't until May of this year that people started to hear about the event. The Nevada Family Alliance spoke out against the event via social media and even conducted a petition to cancel the story hour. Sparks Mayor Ron Smith also attempted to put a stop to the event. He told the Reno Gazette Journal, that "It is absolutely ridiculous. Why would you have transgender people talking to kids?" Smith also said that the event posed a safety risk to children.
Scott and many locals say Smith’s comments are offensive to the LGBTQ+ community.
He said shutting down the event didn’t even cross his mind, so it went as planned, except the library was on edge and created a plan of action to keep presenters and children safe from possible protesters.
“When things started heating up, we made sure that we had a very careful plan about who shows up and who's controlling the room,” Scott said, “so we don't have disruption for the kids and [to] protect people who wanted to attend the program and our presenters.”
Inside the library, Miss Ginger Devine chose several books from a pile of options recommended by library staff, which included many children’s favorites conveying a message on acceptance and love. Outside, there was a lone protester.
The man brought a mic and speaker in order to loudly protest, but he refused to share his name or speak with KUNR.
The community’s overwhelming response Zeina Barkawi, a mother to a four-year-old boy and a Reno local, says she was pleasantly surprised about the community’s show of support.
“Children by nature are curious, open-minded, and non-judgemental,” Barkawi said. “They learn to fear other people, they learn to hate, and unfortunately many people are taught that at home, and if we can just take a lesson from children and see others who are different as similar and just ask questions and get to know each other, I think the world would be a better place.”
Ultimately, Barkawi said the support shown at this event conveys a willingness to have this important conversation in Northern Nevada.