SOUTH PORTLAND — A Drag Queen Story Hour at South Portland Public Library was well-received by the community, at a time when other libraries and book stores are experiencing pushback for hosting similar events.

Jake Boyce, who goes by the name Chartreuse when dressed in drag, read to a crowd of more than 50 people on the lawn outside the main library June 1. Children and adults alike danced with Chartreuse, listened to her read books and went indoors afterwards to make paper crowns.

“My neighbor told me about the event, and I thought it sounded like fun,” said Cecile MacIntyre, who attended with her son, Gus. “It seems like Chartreuse had a very good message about being yourself, and kids get a lot out of that.”

The scene was a contrast to a recent event in Waterville, where LGBTQ activists and protesters clashed outside a Drag Queen Story Hour at the Children’s Book Cellar.

Locally, Jim Hoy of South Portland spoke out against the local event in a letter to the editor published in The Forecaster, challenging the library director’s judgment to allow the event.

Boyce said he believes that negative reactions are simply a reflection of deep-seated fears of the unknown. He encouraged those don’t understand to stop and see the positive things that come out of drag queen story time.

“It’s hard for someone to enter that space and leave feeling anything but love,” he said in a phone interview. “Kids have such a beautiful way of knowing the world so well without bias, and we can all gain to learn from that.”

Library Director Kevin Davis said it was the first time the library hosted such an event, but the initial interest was expressed by residents.

He said it’s frustrating to hear complaints from people about the appearance by a drag queen because no one is being forced to attend. Whether it is appropriate for a child or not, he said, is up to each family to decide.

“We reflect our community, and residents wanted a literacy and craft event that reflects themes of diversity and tolerance,” he said. “Negative reactions are just a tiny, tiny fraction in comparison to the overwhelmingly positive response people had.”

John Lavallo, who moved to South Portland a few weeks ago from New York City, attended the event with his two children. He said drag queen book readings are held often where he used to live, so when his wife saw the event listed, they jumped on the opportunity to bring their son and daughter.

“It’s very important for kids to learn there are people who are different than them,” Lavallo said. “Everyone is the same in the sense that they should respect how others live their lives and how people express themselves.”

Boyce said he began drag performances last year and did a Drag Queen Story Hour in Lewiston-Auburn. Outside of drag, He has a bachelor’s degree in dance, and background in dance and special education, and has always worked with children.

“I grew up a performer, but it’s incredibly hard for people of color or any marginalized person to break into the scene,” he said. “I was influenced by my friends and influenced by shows like ‘Ru Paul’s Drag Race.’ When I get into drag, I love how it makes me feel, and I love the positive community response.”

Boyce said he hopes children left the story hour feeling inspired to be themselves. The goal of drag, he said, is to show kids that grown-ups can have fun and express themselves, too.

“I want them to leave feeling love, excitement, and a new understanding and empathy for others,” he said. “When kids are more open and honest with us, we’ll be less likely to have youth growing up feeling like they can’t turn to someone when they are struggling with their identity. We need to support the adults of our future.”

Krysteana Scribner can be reached at [email protected] or 780-9094. Follow her on Twitter: @krysteana2016.

Chartreuse reads to an audience of more than 50 people during Drag Queen Story Hour June 1 at South Portland Public Library.

Dozens of adults and children showed up for Drag Queen Story Hour at the South Portland Public Library on Saturday, June 1.

South Portland resident Cecile MacIntyre, who brought her son, Gus, to Drag Queen Story Hour June 1 at South Portland Public Library on Broadway: “It seems like Chartreuse had a very good message about being yourself, and kids get a lot out of that.”

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