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Arts & Entertainment

Fun, educational and affirming, the SF-born ‘Drag Queen Story Hour’ continues to engage the community

PerSia, a San Francisco Drag Queen reads to children during Drag Queen story hour at the San Francisco Public Library in San Francisco, Calif., on Saturday, June 18, 2022. | Nina Riggio for The Standard

If the men who disrupted a Drag Queen Story Hour event at the San Lorenzo Public Library last week were hoping to end up the subjects of a potential hate crime investigation, they’ve succeeded. If their goal was to intimidate other drag performers and dissuade families from supporting similar events, they may have miscalculated.

On Saturday, June 18—just a week after the incident in San Lorenzo—the mood was buoyant and warm at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library, as local drag performer PerSia read and sang to a group of about 15 children and around 20 parents, grandparents and guardians.

“It’s really important for me to show up no matter what,” PerSia said in an interview after the event.

She began the session with a book titled It Feels Good to be Yourself, a story by Theresa Thorn, which explores themes of gender identity. “There are never-ending ways to be yourself in the world,” PerSia read aloud.

San Francisco is the birthplace of Drag Queen Story Hour—which now boasts more than 30 chapters in over 20 states—and PerSia has been involved from the very beginning. The story hours, she said, are deeply meaningful for her, as they give her the opportunity to bridge her work as an educator and a performer.

At Saturday’s event at the main library, children spontaneously danced in their seats, crawled around the terrace garden and wandered in and out of storytime to get juice boxes and face paint. Artist Anna Heredia sat in the corner painting rainbows, rockets and ice cream cones on kids inspired by PerSia’s makeup. 

In addition to reading three children’s books, PerSia also performed two musical numbers, beginning with Katy Perry’s “Firework.” During the first song, PerSia produced a pair of trash bags as she danced around the room—giving the children a visual to correspond with the lyrics, “Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?”

The second number was Bjӧrk’s “It’s Oh So Quiet”—a perfect selection for a Saturday morning at the public library. The children broke into a delighted chorus of “shhh” during the first and second verses. A couple of parents sang along.

At the end of the song, when the brass track comes in on the word “riot,” PerSia ran out of the building onto the open terrace and reappeared in the window. She removed her mask for the first time during the event, and began to lip sync wildly to the song.

The idea of riots came up again during a reading of “Twas the Night Before Pride” which tells the story of the Stonewall Riots in simple, but powerful rhymes. 

After the reading, PerSia stayed back to talk to her adoring, pint-sized fans who refer to her as “Mr. Ma’am” or the “the nice lady.” Some families had come from Redwood City and an international family joked that they had come all the way from Australia just for the event. 

As the morning drew to a close, PerSia reflected on the disturbance at San Lorenzo and the importance of Drag Queen Story Hour. 

“Drag is about expressing yourself, going outside the box, and showing there’s more to life than whatever ‘normal’ is,” she said. “Drag is about self acceptance, love, and exploring. When you’re a little kid you’re encouraged to color outside the lines. But when you get to a certain age there’s all these unspoken rules and what drag does is break those rules.”