A celebration of diversity and “being who you are” combined with a splash of literacy, the second annual Pride London Drag Queen Storytime was a big hit – with kids and adults alike.

“I wish there had been something like this when I was a kid,” I overheard a man say to a fellow parent. They were both sitting in tiny craft chairs, waiting for a group of gorgeous drag queens to arrive. I couldn’t help but agree.

Nicki Nastasia reads Daniel Haack’s Prince & Knight, a queer-friendly fairy tale telling the love story between a handsome prince and a brave knight. Photo by Laura Thorne.

The 2018 Pride London Festival officially kicked off on Thursday, July 19th.

Known as “Southwestern Ontario’s Most Colourful Festival,” Pride London aims to bring London and area’s LGBT+ communities and allies together through events and activities to promote unity, inclusion, and awareness of sexual and gender diversity.

The 11-day festival includes many events for the whole family, including the storytime, which took place at London Public Library’s Central Library on Saturday, July 21.

Standing room only at Drag Queen Story Time at London Public Library on Saturday, July 21. Photo by Laura Thorne.

Five London queens – Mz. Affra-Tighty, Nico Lavender, Lita Von Sleaze, Nicki Nastasia, and Miss Shaneen –  graced the Spriet Family Children’s Library, filling the space with laughter and colour. The turn out was incredible with the room full of kids and adults, singing, clapping, laughing, and dancing along.

Ask questions – don’t be shy!

“Who’s met a drag queen in real life?” Mz. Affra-Tighty asked the crowd gathered around the queens. About a third of the audience raised their hand.

Right away, the queens encouraged the children to ask questions. Mz. Affra-Tighty assured them the queens wouldn’t be mad if any of the kids interrupted – this encouragement prompted one little girl to raise her hand to share her exciting news, saying “I’m starting school in September!” while another boasted about how much she loves books, “even though I can’t read yet!”

I expected at least one question about the queens’ colourful dresses or gorgeous hair, but I should have known better. The kids were, as kids usually are, unconcerned with what adults may have wanted to ask, and were there to hear a good story and have fun.

The heels on the drag queen go click-click-click

Each queen read a story focused on acceptance, diversity, and empowerment. The selection of books included Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas, The Book with No Pictures by B. J. Novak, Prince and Knight by Daniel Haack, Sugar and Snails by Sarah Tsiang, and That Is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems.

Five drag queens sit in front of a crowd; one holds a ukulele.
The queens sing together while Nico Lavender plays the ukulele. Left to right sits Miss Shaneen, Lita Von Sleaze, Mz. Affra-Tighty, Nicki Nastasia, and Nico Lavender. Photo by Laura Thorne.

In between stories, the queens sang songs accompanied by Nico Lavender on ukulele, playfully changing the lyrics to the delight and amusement of attendees. The wheels on the bus didn’t go round and round. Instead, the heels on the drag queen went click-click-click!

Inclusive for all

To ensure everyone could enjoy storytime, a sign language interpreter was at the front next to the queens. A sign language interpreter will be at many of Pride London Festival events this year, in an effort to be more inclusive and improve accessibility.

Miss Shaneen reads while kids follow along with the instructions in the story. The sign language interpreter sits next to the queens. Photo by Laura Thorne.

The event aims to demonstrate acceptance and diversity to children and show them that there’s no one right way to be or dress. And while there’s been some backlash to similar events in other cities, there wasn’t a single protestor in sight at the London event.

All five queens stayed afterwards to take pictures, answer questions, and chat with storytime revellers. You can see more photos on the London Public Library’s Facebook page.

The festival runs until Sunday, July 29. Programming runs throughout. A full guide to the festival can be found on the Pride London Festival website.

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