BPL to host Drag Queen Storytime

BDN file photo Cass Downing, known in the entertainment industry as Cass Maire Domino, performs during Madison's pride rally last year. She will be a guest reader at Drag Queen Storytime at the Beloit Public Library on June 27.

BELOIT - Drag Queen Storytime is coming to the Beloit Public Library, and library staff are encouraging parents to sashay down to the library with their young children.

The library's first Drag Queen Storytime is at both 10 and 11 a.m. on June 27, with guest reader and Madison-based drag queen Cass Marie Domino. Children are encouraged to attend in their favorite costume/dress-up clothes for reading and dancing.

The event is a partnership with the Beloit-based nonprofit Yellow Brick Road (YBR). The nonprofit's mission is to help the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Marilyn Schuh, president and founder of YBR, said her organization mainly caters to adults, and many of those adults have children. The storytime is a way to bring children to a family-friendly LGBT event.

"It's important to have these events where love and acceptance is promoted, because even if people aren't LGBT, or their kids aren't LGBT, it's still important we understand each other and are allies, because we're all allies to one another," Schuh said.

The Beloit Public Library released a statement saying they have received both affirming and dissenting responses to the event.

Comments on the library's Facebook page remained mostly positive. However, a few people were concerned that some may be unaware the weekly Wednesday story time event will be bringing in the guest drag queen on June 27. Library staff say there will be signs in the library, and staff will be stationed at the door to make sure people are aware of this storytime event.

Library Director Nick Dimassis said he expects patrons to respond with various perspectives, and he and his staff appreciate the feedback.

"Just as long as libraries have been around, people have expressed their opinion about the materials in a library, and so it should be no different in programming," Dimassis said.

He said having constituents speak up helps guide library staff in making sure they're meeting patron's needs.

"I think any time those that pay for the library speak up, it's a good thing," he said.

He notes Drag Queen Storytime is not a new concept. In fact, last year the Associated Press reported on a similar program in Madison.

Schuh said she expected dissenting opinions but she was surprised by the overflow of affirming comments.

Dimassis said the library is working to make sure everyone is informed so no one feels as though their "values are being ambushed."

"What we are trying to do - and we think it's our responsibility to do this, also - is to present something in a non-antagonistic or oppositional way," Dimassis said. "That's not to shy away from the issues at hand, but we present the public library as a neutral place; as a conduit for parents for learning and development, for them as well as their families."

Jeni Schomber, head of youth services, said Beloit has a diverse community which should be publicly celebrated.

"We do serve everybody in the community, so those programs are reflective of the people in the community," Schomber said.

Amy Mitchell, outreach and communications coordinator, said people are welcome to choose to come or not with their children. She said all children who attend must be accompanied by a parent or guardian, as is the case with every Wednesday storytime throughout the year.

Storytimes are meant for children ages 6 and younger, though older siblings are welcome to attend. However, the library expects this particular storytime will draw in older children as well.

In this program, Cass Marie Domino will read two age appropriate books: "Disguise-o-Saur," by Katie Abey, and "What's the Difference?: Being Different Is Amazing," by Doyin Richards.

Mary Lou Dekeyser, storytime programer, said none of the books specifically address gender identity or sexuality, but focus on the differences in all of us and the ways we're similar.

The Drag Queen Storytime is a part of the new "E Pluribus Unum" series, which positively features issues some may find controversial.

Dimassis said some residents are concerned about not seeing their values represented in the libraries programs. So he is considering exploring - possibly through an ad hoc citizens committee - different topics in the series.