GSA hosts Drag Queen Story Hour Event in library to celebrate National Coming Out Day

NYPD Community Affairs monitors event due to reports of a potential protest from an outside group
NYPD Community Affairs monitors Drag Story Hour Event at THHS after reports of a potential protest
NYPD Community Affairs monitors Drag Story Hour Event at THHS after reports of a potential protest
Karen Lin
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On October 11, National Coming Out Day, the Gender Sexuality Alliance club (GSA) at Townsend Harris invited Drag Story Hour NYC to perform in the library. The organizer encouraged all students, faculty, and members of the LGBTQ+ community to gather for a discussion and read the novel Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender. The book explores the story of Caroline Murphy, a young girl who discovers her feelings for another girl and consequently struggles with social acceptance, abandonment, and grief as she slowly starts to understand her own identity. Drag performer Miz Jade read the inspiring coming-of-age story to Harrisites, comparing her own experiences and struggles of being part of the LGBTQ+ community to those of Caroline.

Drag Story Hour NYC is an organization that invites local drag performers to libraries, churches, and special events to read books centered around themes of diversity and identity, providing a safe space for students to come together to express their own experiences and celebrate all forms of differences. “Doing this kind of event and connecting with this community means a lot to me. Growing up, people of my generation did not allow for the representation of the queer community. We barely saw LGBTQ+ people in the media or being celebrated. What’s special about Story Hour is that we are fierce, authentic, and fabulous role models, and storytellers for all ages,” Miz Jade said. Drag Story NYC aims to empower members of the LGBTQ+ community to be their authentic selves, building empathy among students.

The arrival of Drag Story Hour NYC at THHS was a combination of efforts from junior Vee Shupty, who is the president of GSA, and librarian Arlene Laverde. Ms. Laverde said, “They came to me and I said, ‘I want to do stuff with GSA.’ I had just gone to a training for Drag Story Hour with the DOE, so I was like, why don’t we do a Drag Story Hour.” The event’s date intentionally aligned with National Coming Out Day as a way to commemorate the journey of self-discovery and acceptance that many individuals from the LGBTQ+ community go through.

GSA President Vee said, “It’s vital for our generation to know that queer people exist outside of the media. It’s easy for people to get lost in the idea that these people only exist behind screens and through articles when in reality, they’re all around us. Holding events like these provides a safe space for students to be themselves and also just to learn more about the world around them.” GSA Secretary, sophomore Jazlyn Febles, said, “This is so important to the world right now. We need to spread positivity and love to the LGBTQ+ community, especially [to] our drag queens.”

Assistant Principal Veronica York and advisor of GSA said, “I think it’s our job and our role in this building and administration to create inclusive safe spaces. Any time you come to us with an event that you want to do something that you think would be exciting and is supporting and validating, we have to move barriers out of the way and find ways to make that happen.”

Stickers available for all attendees to show support. (Katherine Lian)

One anonymous senior who attended the GSA event said, “I hope we get to do this [again], I’m really glad it was approved of and it [ended up] being a really fun event.” Another anonymous senior said, “The event was intriguing because beyond the story-telling, we had conversations back and forth [between] the drag queen and the attendees about various [experiences] as part of the LGBTQ+ community.” Both seniors who spoke to The Classic asked to remain anonymous because they did not want their parents to know they attended the event.

When the GSA club advertised their event on Instagram, one online group of parents shared a screenshot of the post. Ms. York said, “It was not parental backlash from our [THHS] parents to be clear. However, there was an online group that was against it, and that’s part of freedom of speech. That’s part of what you learn here too: people get to have their own opinions.”

The social media posts led the school to believe the parent advocacy group might protest the event, according to Ms. York and Ms. Laverde. They then informed the principal, superintendent, and the Department of Education of the possibility of a protest. To ensure the protection of the students and school faculty, NYPD Community Affairs officers were stationed at the event. The officers said they were unable to comment on their role at the event.

“We want to make sure the performers and our students are safe, coming and going. We don’t want any trouble and [the police] were here to make sure everything is okay. [The Facebook post] was just an angry face, but you gotta take anything seriously, especially with everything going on in the world today. It’s always better to be prepared than to say we have nothing to worry about,” Ms. Laverde said.

Anti-LGBTQ+ policies have been enacted on the state level in recent years, with CNN reporting at least 417 laws being passed within the United States. Recently, Tennessee became the first U.S. state to pass legislation that bans “adult-oriented” entertainment for minors, which includes drag performers. If these laws are violated, it will be classified as a misdemeanor.

In response to these recent events, Miz Jade said, “Queer people exist. We are not going anywhere. We are everywhere and we are incredible role models for all. It’s sad that falsehoods are happening, lies are being spread, and legislation is used to dim our light. However, it’s also comforting to see an increase of support for what we do and who we are. It’s important that queer people are not just living to live, but are thriving, building community, and spreading love.”

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