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Last Modified: May 11, 2023
Feature Image for Drag Queen Storytime: Rows of glitter in the colours of a rainbow. “Beyond the Stacks with Jessie Bach" is written in white text on a purple background below the image.
Drag Queen Storytime

By Jessie Bach

Libraries do not make national headlines every day, but an incident at Calgary Public Library (CPL) on February 25 this year certainly hit the national spotlight. On that day David Reimer, a Calgary-based pastor, was captured on video as he disrupted a Reading with Royalty storytime event at CPL’s Seton branch by entering the program space and yelling hateful and anti-2SLQBTQ+ language. Reimer was forcefully removed from the event by several attendees, arrested and eventually charged with hate-motivated offences. While this unfortunate incident garnered intense media attention, both locally and across the country, Drag Queen Storytime programs are not new to Alberta libraries—nor is the protest, disruption, and controversy surrounding them.

The first Drag Queen Storytime programs were created in 2015 in San Francisco by the author, Michelle Tea. The premise of the program is straightforward—drag performers in full costume host storytime events at public libraries. The picture books the performers choose to share with the children often (but not always) contain 2SLGBTQ+ themes, and children are encouraged to dress up in their favourite princess dresses, capes, masks, or whatever makes them feel like their best selves. The concept spread quickly, and libraries all over the world began hosting their own versions of the program. In Alberta, libraries have been hosting Drag Queen Storytimes since at least 2017. In the description for their 2022 Pride Week Reading with Royalty event, the Red Deer Public Library provides a great definition for “Drag Queen Storytime”: They state that it “is exactly like any other storytime, except that we have a special guest reader (who is a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community) dressed in a fabulous sparkly outfit, sharing their love of reading, and choosing stories about love, acceptance, and diversity.”

In Calgary, the division around Drag Queen Storytimes is escalating. On March 14, the City of Calgary, with unprecedented speed, passed a Safe and Inclusive Spaces Bylaw that prohibits protests within one hundred metres of the entrance to city recreation facilities and libraries. This has been successful in moving the protestors and counter-protestors (who are present at each event too to support the programs and the drag performers, and often outnumber the protestors themselves) out of the library and away from the doors, thus allowing attendees to join the story times safely and enjoy an undisturbed event. Some of those in opposition, though, are finding other ways to express their views. For example, the Fairview Baptist Church has rented space at the Fish Creek Library to hold a counter-program called “Readings from True Royalty”, which promises “a time of reading books, singing, free prizes, and friendships celebrating God’s design of male and female marriage, and family,” and invites children to “dress up for the event in their favourite clothing or colour that complements their God-given gender.”

Prior to the high-profile incident in Calgary, several libraries in Alberta have hosted Drag Queen Storytime programs, and all of them have faced challenges from some members of their communities. In Grande Prairie, during a 24 January 2023 event called Reading with Drag Queen Tiffany, an unknown man pulled the fire alarm in an attempt to force an evacuation of the building and the cancellation of the event. At Edmonton Public Library last summer, protestors and counter-protestors clashed outside of a storytime program hosted by a local drag queen, Felicia Bonée. Red Deer’s 2022 Reading with Royalty event was criticized by a member of the city council on Facebook, who stated “Drag is adult entertainment and should not be put in front of four to eight-year-olds, especially not in a public setting. Like many, I am extremely disheartened by this event.” Events in Spruce Grove, Lethbridge, and Okotoks have contended with similar opposition. Each of these stories hit the local news headlines but did not capture the same level of attention as we are seeing now following the events in Calgary in February.

Despite the opposition, Drag Queen Storytime programs are perennially popular with children and families. CPL continues to host its Reading with Royalty programs as scheduled—you can check out this website to find the time and branch for the next event. At the time of writing, registration for all posted upcoming Reading with Royalty events is full and there is a growing waitlist. At the February event in Grande Prairie, photos show a room packed to capacity.

The incident at the Seton Branch has grown into a much larger conversation that is dominating local discourse in the Calgary and Alberta social media spaces (a place where I am guilty of doing much doom-scrolling) and spilling out into other non-library public spaces. Whether we are ready for it or not, Alberta’s libraries are becoming centred in the heated back and forth between supporters of Drag Queen Storytimes and those who argue the events expose children to inappropriate content. What has always been intended as a “family-friendly event that celebrates inclusion and imagination through stories and songs” has now become a regular battleground for those who support the events and those who oppose them.

Libraries are no strangers to controversy. They come under fire regularly for weeding practices, and censorship and materials challenges are perennial issues that have recently increased in frequency. That said, the events of the past month feel different; bigger. They have captured the public’s attention and dominated local discourse in a way that I have not seen in my twelve years of librarianship. Drag Queen Storytime programs are now swept up in the increasingly intense anti-trans, anti-drag, and anti-LGBTQ movement and it has caught us off-guard. I—and I suspect many others who share the librarianship profession—are feeling surprised, disoriented, and overwhelmed trying to navigate another situation that we didn’t think could happen here. And yet, it did.


Beyond the Stacks is a column about libraries in Alberta and the useful and necessary services they provide.

Photo of Jessie Bach, author of this article

Jessie Bach grew up on a family farm in Southern Alberta and is a lifelong library user and book lover. She has a degree in history from the University of Saskatchewan, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. Jessie has worked in archives, academic libraries, corporate records management, and now public libraries. Her current role is Communications & Engagement Manager at Marigold Library System. She currently lives in Calgary with her partner and, in true librarian fashion, three cats. Jessie likes to read (of course), knit, consume way too many true crime podcasts, and lift weights in the gym.

Feature image credit: Alexander Grey.