It’s not so much that the Washington Post is running feel-good stories these days about drag queens appearing at libraries.
That’s a valid story and many readers would be interested. The problem is that the opponents of this trend are drawn in such stark, dramatic negativity. And, yes, religion is in the mix there.
The Post’s recent story about drag queens doing the story hours for children in a Detroit suburb is drawn in predictable lines. The pro folks are described in colorful adjectives and attractive personalities who come with “lots of hugs.” The librarian comes with “a thoughtful air, nose ring and cat-eye glasses.” What’s not to like?
The dreaded antis are colorless people with signs and no disarming descriptions. Even the hapless city commissioner who was forced out of office for being against the drag queens didn’t get much sympathy.
I happen to like this quote from the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber about every church needing at least one drag queen, but the issues with a public library are different. The story starts here:
HUNTINGTON WOODS, Mich. — The last time drag queens came to the public library here, two dozen children and their parents crowded into a cozy room to enjoy holiday stories. Jessica J’Adore — decked out in a curly red wig, a shiny green cocktail dress and elaborate makeup — read “The Night Before Christmas,” while another costumed queen offered up a lively Hanukkah rhyming book. One little boy gave a pipe-cleaner bracelet to his favorite performer.
“There were a lot of hugs,” librarian Joyce Krom said. “Kids love holidays, and they’re just very excited. It was a lot of fun.”
It was also the latest flash point in what’s become a noxious national controversy. Variations of Drag Queen Story Hour — which aims to teach children gender diversity and acceptance — have been sprouting nationwide in libraries large and small. But their popularity has provoked an increasingly fierce backlash from conservative religious groups, with Huntington Woods the latest target.
Who could be against “gender diversity and acceptance?”
Four paragraphs down, we’re told there’s an anti-campaign “stoked by outsiders.” Way further down, we hear of the (local) city commissioner who opposed the drag queens. Would the reporter have mentioned outside help had the demonstrators been from Planned Parenthood or organizers from the national Women’s March?
Then we get a dissenting point of view.
“I believe we’re in a culture war right now,” said Rich Penkoski, a minister with the Tennessee-based group Warriors for Christ who will lead one demonstration. He has fought similar events in multiple states and anticipates dozens of people joining him in Huntington Woods. “We need to fight just as much as everybody else.”
Just what is the religious case against drag queens, as it would be articulated by people who hold that point of view? Is there one?
Think like an old-school journalist. Wouldn’t it have been nice if we could have heard more about what that is, like there was an actual debate taking place? And are these folks not so much against drag queens as their presence in children’s programs representing a kind of slippery slope? Read this Atlantic magazine article if you don’t believe that gender dysphoria is a huge trend among teens.
Look at the photo page for the drag queen story web site and see the “Love Wins” rainbow signs there. Where have we seen that before? Yep, the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. And the reporter doesn’t understand why the antis are so nervous?
Back to Krom the librarian:
In the wake of (the 2016) November’s election, she said, many of her patrons were eager for efforts that offered a rebuke to the kind of bigotry and meanness they associated with the new president. In the affluent, liberal suburb, a drag queen story time resonated.
The first time the librarian invited a drag queen to visit in December 2017, the speaker brought “My Princess Boy,” a book about a small boy who wanted to wear dresses.
Opponents feel differently, arguing that the events confuse children about gender norms and represent a dangerous new front in advocates’ desire to impose a sweeping pro-gay and transgender ideology.
The national group MassResistance — a “pro-family activist organization” that the Southern Poverty Law Center characterizes as an anti-LGBT hate group — has made the drag queen story hours a rallying cry, organizing boycotts and filing lawsuits. New protests erupted this month in Colorado, Indiana and Tennessee, and it took litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union to end a ban the public library in Lafayette, La., imposed.
One thing that’s not told in this story is whether children are told that the “princess” is actually a man. Seems that parents would object less if the kids weren’t told this and they weren’t faced with embarrassing questions from the kiddos at home.
If you really want to trash a group these days, just mention it’s on the blacklist of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC has been roundly criticized and even successful sued for its inaccurate hate list and I’ve criticized media quite a bit for simply repeating their talking points. A Washington Post columnist even criticized the SPLC recently but I’m guessing that memo didn’t make it to the Post’s national desk.
Mass Resistance, if you read their web site, has been around for years and is more similar to Operation Rescue and Black Lives Matter in the founders’ belief that confrontation gets better results than accommodation. Diplomatic they are not.
Read the rest of the story and you’ll see how the reporter inserts a lot of opinion — “the evening was a remarkable display of civic discourse” … “the vast majority were in favor and praised Krom and Turner for championing diversity” — into the narrative while not being too upset that the dissenting commissioner was (kind of) run out of town. This is cheerleading.
The Detroit Free Press version of this contretemps isn’t any more fair than the Post story, although it at least ran a copy of a letter written by the dissenting commissioner explaining her point of view.
It also repeated a phrase from the library’s Facebook page describing the event:
"DQS captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models. In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where people can present as they wish, where dress up is real."
Who says childhood is automatically gender fluid? That’s a pretty controversial statement, in terms of basic DNA and science, considering that the overwhelming majority of kids in a typical elementary school class (and I’ve substitute taught for many of them in recent years) are gender specific.
Put this in another context. What if the local library invited local Southern Baptist or Assemblies of God ministers to read kids’ story books because everyone knows that kids religious views are evolving and thus they should hear every point of view at an early age?
Looking around the country, I saw this story on how the same conflict is being played out in Birmingham, Ala. The religious leaders are given a more respectful hearing.
I am sure that drag queens make for a very entertaining story hour, but I wish reporters would put themselves in the shoes of those opposing their appearance instead of consigning them to the hate group category. You’ve got a huge national fight on transgender people in the military right now, so why pretend this issue is settled in peoples’ minds?
It is deceptive to ascribe sexist motives to people without admitting that it’s only been two years since the Obama administration sent school districts a letter threatening them with federal lawsuits if they didn’t have transgender restrooms and that some folks felt that issue was shoved down their throats.
One more journalism issue: Huntington Woods is only 12 miles away from the majority Muslim suburb of Hamtramck and I’m willing to bet that drag queen diversity wouldn’t go over too big there. It would offend Muslim sensitivities, wouldn’t it? Would the same reporters jump all over the locals if they brought in the Nation of Islam to protest what’s going on at the local library? Of course not.
When reporters refuse to understand the opposition or at least grant them a measure of humanity, it’s no wonder that more and more people are simply turning them off and tuning them out.