By Robin Parmelee, Staff Writer
On Sept. 19, the Lafayette Library hosted Drag Queen Storytime with Bella Aldama for the first time. The event celebrated Latine Heritage Month; Aldama read books and lip synced to music by Latine artists.
Aldama performs across the Bay Area. She has been a drag queen for 12 years and worked for an LGBTQ+ non-profit for seven years. She has also been a volunteer for various youth programs, the food pantry, adult programs at the Rainbow Community Center, and an HIV prevention program.
Aldama reached out to the Lafayette Library in May 2022 hoping to organize a story hour for the Lafayette community. Allegra Porter, the children’s librarian at the Lafayette Library, had been working with Aldama to plan the event. In order to ensure the event went as smoothly as possible, the library conducted a lot of research and preparation.
“I wanted to learn about drag queen story times in general, I wanted to learn about what libraries had been dealing with over the past years. I did know that some story times had been disrupted by groups that didn’t necessarily want them to happen and I wanted to prepare for that,” Porter said.
Aldama started off the event with her interpretation of Ariel from the Disney movie, The Little Mermaid. She then lip synced and danced to “Part of Your World”.
After her performance, she sat down to read Julián Is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love. The story follows a kid who wants to be a mermaid while also addressing aspects of Latine culture. Aldama also read a book about Frida Kahlo, a Mexican painter who is famous for her self portraits.
After a costume change, Aldama finished off the performance lip syncing to “Dreaming of You” by Selena Quintanilla-Perez, the “Queen of Tejano Music”. At the end of the story hour, families lined up to take photos with Aldama.
Many parents spoke out in favor of the experience that Aldama provided their children.
“It actually brought a lot of people together, there were a lot of people that really came together and I also think that it brought a lot of interest to the event,” local parent Erica Przybylski said.
The story hour also received backlash, before and during the event. The library became aware there would be protesters outside, and instituted extra precautions to ensure the safety of Aldama, the families attending the story hour, and the protesters. Porter also contacted the Drag Queen Story Hour organizers to learn the best safety measures.
Lisa Disbrow, a teacher in the West Contra Costa School District and a candidate for Contra Costa County Board of Education, District 2, organized the protests against the story hour. Multiple protesters held signs stating their position. One poster stated: “Education not indoctrination.” Another poster read: “Sexual exposure is abusive.”
“My sign says ‘Let parents do their own parenting’. As my friend said, I think young kids are sponges, they’ll learn anything you put in front of them. I think parents are the best source for that and not the schools, for sexual education,” an anonomyous protester said.
All other protesters declined an interview. There were approximately 15 protesters in attendance.
There were also many counter protests in favor of the event.
“As a queer person myself, seeing people protest a drag queen reading a children’s book just because she is a drag queen, even if she is doing nothing wrong and the content of the book she was reading is made for children, is very disheartening …Their presence at our library was uncalled for and deeply uncomfortable,” QSA president and sophomore Ash Lee said.
The protest was originally meant to be silent and peaceful, however, it was reported that one protester threatened some of the counter protesters.
“This man was there wearing a hat, glasses, and holding a big sign. When Ash and I engaged in talking to him and asking him why he was saying the things he was, he insinuated that we were instigating him and searching for a fight and then said to Ash and me, ‘your mommy and daddy aren’t here to protect you’,” junior Gabe Gardner said.
Aldama also expressed fear of the protesters at the event; the protests made her uncomfortable despite being anticipated.
“I had to wait for someone to come with me because I didn’t feel safe alone. If I went alone and walked through the front doors, that would be scary. We wouldn’t know what would happen,” Aldama said. “A lot of children don’t feel safe at school with their classmates, with their teachers, some of them don’t feel safe at home with their families. For me, it was a way to continue fighting, for people to feel welcome in every space and for parents to show support for their kids.”
Photos by Robin Parmelee, Staff Writer