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Drag queen story times teach acceptance, diversity at Toronto libraries

Lucy Flawless reads story books to a packed audience at the Jones public library in Toronto on Dec. 30, 2017.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Jack Slade's favourite hat is pink and sparkly. But sometimes people tell the nearly 5-year-old that he shouldn't wear it because he's a boy and boys shouldn't wear pink, sparkly things.

But Jack, sitting among dozens of children at the Jones Public Library in Toronto on Saturday, listened to a drag queen decked out in sparkly shoes, false eyelashes and a skirt, read stories saying that boys can wear pink, sparkles and dresses if they want – that it's okay.

"It's so affirming here," said Jennifer Slade, Jack's mother, at Jones library on Saturday.

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As part of the new LGBTQ kids programming, Toronto Public Libraries across the city host story times with drag queens. The drag queens read stories of acceptance, diversity and all different types of families, then have dance parties or sing.

Story times such as these have become popular in places such as San Francisco and New York in the past two years, and now the trend has moved into Canada. At the Pride celebrations in Toronto this year, several library branches held drag queen story times and from there, a new program was born at the Toronto Public Library.

"I think it's important for kids to understand that boys don't have to play with trucks and girls don't just have to play with dolls," said Scott Robins, chair of the Toronto Public Library's LGBTQ kids programming. Mr. Robins compiles a list of kid-friendly performers – whether they're drag queens, artists, or authors – for Toronto library branches to draw on to have LGBTQ representation in their kids' activities.

"We want to be at the forefront of this," Mr. Robins said.

Even though it's new to the Toronto scene, drag queen story times have become very popular. The Jones library was filled on Saturday with so many families, there was barely standing room and the two drag queens had to separate and do their own readings – the original plan was to have them read together.

"It's wild, absolutely fantastic," said Brendan Michie, a local parent at the story time. His 4-year-old daughter, Geneviève Michie, loves story times of all sorts and said she loved seeing the drag queens and their outfits.

In a chair in front of wide-eyed children such as Geneviève, drag queen Lucy Flawless read My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis, a story about a boy who likes to wear dresses.

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"The book choices were amazing," said Ms. Flawless, who did her first story time on Saturday. "It was all very, be who you are, sparkly boy." She flashed her bejewelled bangles and red nail polish.

Erin Brockobić, who also performed at the Jones library reading (and went by Erin B. for the kids), said she appreciates the story times as opportunities to be "irreverently" herself in front of young kids.

She was decked out almost entirely in gold: dress, purse, large jewelled ring and a blonde, curly wig.

"When I was young, this wasn't as cool; it wasn't as accepted and I didn't have these role models," Ms. Brockobić said. "So in a way, I get to be the role model that I never got."

At the end of the reading – and Ms. Brockobić said it's a common occurrence – parents came up and thanked the drag queens for being there. The kids and drag queens took selfies. One family joked they would hire Ms. Flawless for their son's birthday party because he liked seeing her so much.

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