An elementary school in Bristol, U.K., will celebrate World Book Day a bit differently than some schools this year – Parson Street Primary School has invited drag queens to come read stories to the children.
The Drag Queen Story Time (DQST) organization will visit the school on March 1 to share stories and solidify the message of tolerance.
The Bristol Post reported that many parents are outraged, as the drag queens are adult entertainers; parents are concerned with the age-appropriateness of the reading materials.
The Drag Queen Story Time (DQST) organization has gained recognition and has shown success in teaching LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) tolerance.
Founder of the organization Tom Canham, 25, has had a team of six drag queens who have performed for more than 2,000 children during the past eight months.
“For me, the project is about drag queens providing fun and inclusive reading for children about issues around misogyny, homophobia, racism, LGBTQ and gender fluidity in a way which they can understand,” Canham said about the organization.
“Racism, homophobia, misogyny and the like are all learnt behaviours – we aren’t born with any form of hatred, you get taught it over time. And if projects like these can go some small way to helping prevent or curtail that, then it can only be a good thing,” Canham added.
While many parents do not agree with the event, the headmaster says it’s not open for negotiation.
“Lots of parents at the school are not happy about it, but the headmaster says there’s no negotiation and if we don’t like it, we should take our kids out of school on an unauthorized absence,” said one parent who asked to remain anonymous, the Bristol Post reported.
Other parents questioned what stories the drag queens would read to their children but said that Jamie Barry, the school’s headmaster, was being deliberately “vague.” Meanwhile, the school says it has communicated with the parents.
“All of the reading material we use at our performances [is] specifically written for children, and cover all of the topics we engage with in an age-appropriate format,” Canham said.
“If parents have any worries, especially in regard to age-appropriateness, then I encourage them to go on our Facebook page, which has all the books and authors we use at readings. It ranges from ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’ to ‘And Tango Makes Three,'” Canham said.
Parents also want to know if the volunteer drag queens have undergone background checks, and the organization says they have.
“But, as the law states, no one has to be DBS checked unless they have regular unsupervised contact with the children, so we are going above and beyond what the law tells us to do. But we are currently trying to sort out DBS [Disclosures and Barring Services] checks for all our queens,” Canham reassured parents.
“Drag Queen Story Time understands and appreciates the concerns of all parents who may be apprehensive about engagement with our project. When people think of Drag Queens, they think of adult entertainment that isn’t age-appropriate for children,” Canham continued.
“However, our performers are at the top of their field in their art form, and like all performance artists are able to tailor their performance to the audience that they work with. We have worked with organizations from all across the country, from London to Manchester, […] receiving five-star reviews and requests for repeat performances from teachers, parents and children alike,” he said.
“We fully support all of the efforts being made by Parson Street Primary School, and Mr. Barry, to ensure that the school is at the forefront of providing a safe and inclusive space for all children that they teach. I whole-heartedly believe they should learn about these ideas. When you introduce tolerance at a young age, they take it on board. Many of these children will not be LGBT themselves but they will at some point come into contact with someone who is,” Canham added.
Parson Street Primary School is the first Bristol school to be awarded a Gold Practice Status for promoting equality and diversity. The curriculum at the academy is primarily “preparing children to live in an ever-changing and diverse world,” the Bristol Post reported.
“We are a community-focused school and lots of effort is put into working in partnership with parents. We understand the concerns that have been raised and have spoken with many of our community to reassure them of the appropriateness of the activities planned for World Book Day,” Barry added.