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The Reading Lesson

By: Robin Hearts-Love, Mountaineer News Contributor

Posted: February 28, 2020 | 09:05PM EST

"You are never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child."-Dr. Seuss

I'm sure by now you are aware of the events surrounding the now infamous Drag Queen Storytime that was originally scheduled for November 16, 2019 at the Morgantown Public Library, but you may not be aware that organizing this event provided valuable lessons to some of the least likely people of all-myself and Dimitria Blackwell.

Once news of the reading event spread, both public support, and outrage grew seemingly overnight. The library's Facebook page was soon filled with negative reviews from across the country, those opposed were threatening to work to defund the library, and began waging personal attacks against us. Ultimately, the event was cancelled after we received very explicit threats which prompted us to believe that the safety and lives of not only ourselves, but also the children, parents, library staff, and volunteers could be in danger and that was simply not a risk we could take. The cancellation loomed heavy over both of our hearts as to us at least, cancelling felt like a loss and a blow to the entirety of the LGBTQIA+ community and movement. Nearly two months would pass before the event saw its original concept come to life before a live audience.

As a native West Virginian, I was very aware that prejudices exist right here in the Mountain State, but until it was directly in my face, I did not understand the depth of how far that hatred ran. Something as simple as reading a book to children in a supervised setting evoked such angered responses that church groups were willing to plan a drive to Morgantown from all over the state to "rebuke" us "in the name of Jesus". We were called "devils", "child abusers", "pedophiles", accused of "grooming and indoctrination", and the parents and guardians planning on bringing their children were met with many of the same criticisms. I'm sure our "Mountain Mama" wept as she saw on a widespread scale why so many young West Virginians leave this beautiful state in search of a better life.

Immediately following our cancellation, we launched a YouTube channel that posts weekly stories, "Drag Queen Storytime Blackwell Enterprises". On January 30, thanks to the kind folks at WVU's LGBT+ Center, our event finally saw that live audience. Seeing The Gluck Theater filled with so many families and children enjoying the event as it was meant to be filled our hearts. We held a question and answer portion at the end, and were surprised at the thoughtful, deep, and meaningful questions we fielded, almost all from the CHILDREN.

Everyone learned something that evening, including myself. I would like to share some of those lesson with you.

Hate is a learned behavior. The children in the audience that evening were not scared, or confused by us which the opposition often touted they would be. The children came and enjoyed an evening of reading, music, family, and fun. They asked questions about their favorite drag queens from a popular television show, offered up suggestions of some of their favorite books, and were concerned with how we dealt with bullies. They left me feeling that in a time not far from now, when they are the leaders of the world, we have a much better tomorrow to look forward to.

The children who came to our event were not the ones who needed it the most. Growing up in a conservative household as a young trans woman who could not express myself, I would not have been taken to an event such as this either. I can say, however, that even knowing that an event like this existed would have helped me feel like I was not alone in my personal struggles. Attendance of course was strictly voluntary, but whether the guardians of the children in the area thought that it was a good fit or not, this event served as a beacon of hope for children who were just like me growing up.

This event also reminded me that the truth is, we can't change who we are, and we do not have a "choice" as it is often described in conservative circles. No one would CHOOSE to subject themselves to discrimination, hatred, violence, death threats, and murder that our community sees as a part of everyday life. Many of us had parents who were not unlike the ones who protested this event sheltered us from knowing that our community existed, some even had parents who sent them to "conversion therapy", a barbaric treatment with no credible results in hopes to change who we are. None of that worked, and we still grew up to live our truths. Statistics show that just one supportive adult cuts the chance an LGBTQIA+ individual will attempt suicide by 40%. If you are a child in a situation like this one know that you are not alone.

I think the final lesson is the most poignant of all-we have a long way to go. As early as this morning, as I revise this article, I was greeted by a couple of headlines from WV Legislation that caused me to step back and take in the sheer breadth of the battles we have yet to face. "Equality Bills Die Without Hearings" and "WV Senate Passes Bill Making Daylight Savings Time Year Round". While neither of these two bills seem to have anything to do with one another, they do serve to illustrate a point-our own representatives do not seek to provide us with the same protections that every human being should be granted. To put the utter insanity of this into perspective, allow me to point out that FEDERAL regulations DO NOT currently allow any state to observe daylight savings time year round. A hypothetical situation was more important to our state government than the rights of its people.

Throughout the past few months, we found that "where there is a will, there is a way". Our message is, has, and always will be the importance of childhood literacy, but the lesson learned were beyond that, and I am positive in the coming days, weeks, months, and years, those lessons will continue.

-You can tune in every Sunday at 6 p.m. for a new episode of "Drag Queen Storytime Blackwell Enterprises" on YouTube.

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