The auditorium at the Hamilton Public Library’s Terryberry branch was packed, as Hexe Noire’s Drag Storytime was about to start.
Dozens of young children — and many adults, too — looked at Noire’s colourful dress and Kermit puppet, right before the music started, kicking off the event Thursday morning.
The show started with a song, prompting children to dance along.
With 138 people in attendance, the room was at capacity, with some families who wanted to be there told the event was full.
“Kids often feel that they’re not the same as other people,” Noire told CBC Hamilton. “I think it’s important for kids to know that that’s okay, that’s what makes the world beautiful.”
One of the books Noire read was It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr. Noire said her favourite part of the book is where it says, “it’s okay to eat macaroni and cheese in the bathtub.”
“It’s just that funny, silly thing. It’s okay if you want to be that kid that just marches to the beat of their own drum,” she said.
Noire also read Auntie Uncle: Drag Queen Hero by Ellie Royce, a story about a boy and his uncle, a drag queen who saves a puppy during Pride.
“[The uncle] has a little bit of turmoil about what his friends that know him as his male persona will think and what his friends that know him as a female persona will think and just that it’s okay that he can be both.”
‘Programs like this are necessary’
The event was a first for the branch, but not for HPL. Noire was also at the Binbrook branch on Nov. 14.
HPL said the programming is about making all people in Hamilton “feel welcome and represented.”
“This family-friendly Storytime program communicates and celebrates the diversity of individuals and families,” Shelley McKay, communications manager with the HPL, said in an email to CBC.
The library had scheduled previous Drag Storytime events, McKay added, but they were cancelled in the past due to COVID-19 precautions. The library has received requests to host the program at other branches across the system.
While it was the first at Terryberry, this was not Noire’s first storytime. She has read for many other kids all over Hamilton.
As part of the LGBTQ+ community, she feels it’s important people hear diverse stories.
“For my community, for myself, for the people around me that I love and admire, programs like this are necessary.”
“I feel great that the children were able to come out today with their families, and experience a wonderful, loving event, standing together enjoying songs and music and dance and puppets and books.”
Community members show up to defend event
It was, however, the first time Noire said there was any kind of protest at a storytime event she’s taken part in.
While families listened inside the library, outside, a group of around 20 people showed up to protest the event, after a call to do so was posted on Facebook several days prior, from someone based in the Toronto area.
The posts circulated on social media leading up to the event, prompting a swell of Storytime supporters — more than twice the amount the number of protesters — to gather in front of the library, holding Pride flags and playing music.
Similar crowds of supporters have shown up to defend drag storytime events in other Canadian cities earlier this year, such as Calgary and Winnipeg. The targeting of libraries and performers elsewhere by hateful comments and threats have prompted multiple police investigations and renewed concerns about the safety of the LGBTQ community both in Canada and the U.S.
In Hamilton, a row of at least six police officers stood between the supporters and the protesters. Police also stood inside the library by the auditorium door.
‘No place for hate’
Seth Hunter, a supporter at the library, told CBC Hamilton they were there to make sure the event continued.
“Storytime has been going on in libraries forever, since libraries have existed. It’s just being told by a drag queen, somebody who dresses up and is fun to look at, and it has a lot of energy, and it’s great for the kids,” Hunter said.
They said even though “it sucks” that a counter-protest was necessary, they’re glad to see the support.
“Every time a car went by and honked, we all cheered. [There] was a lot of camaraderie.”
Another supporter, Chris Moors, said in light of the recent shooting that killed five people at an LGTBQ club in Colorado Springs, Colo., she wanted to come out and protect the kids.
She says it’s important “to keep safe spaces for the community… so [I] came here to support the event and the people.”
Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath said in a statement on Friday that the “organized hate and discrimination” at the library on Thursday was “unacceptable,” and she said “there is no place for hate in any form in our community.”
“I am committed to working collaboratively with communities, partners and leaders to tackle hate, systemic racism and discrimination in all their forms,” she said.
Noire said it was scary knowing there was a hateful group who were planning to show up, making her question beforehand whether the event should continue.
“But you know what? It’s scarier to think that they’re out there…. They think they’re protecting children. They’re hurting children.”
Daycare teacher Rachel Smith brought her class to the storytime and said she hopes HPL does more of them.
“[Noire] did amazing. I think it’s so important as a daycare provider to get out there. It’s a beautiful day, there’s no reason to not show up.”
Smith said the kids loved the event.
“The music, the dancing, the nice, bright colours, the messages within the two stories that she [read] were so important. And I think the Hamilton Public Library should hold more events like this.”