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Demystifying drag storytime

7 March, 2023

By Jessica Hopkins

Taranaki Drag Queens, CoCo Flash (left) and Erika Flash (right) and from Rainbow Storytime NZ, share positive stories with themes of acceptance, kindness, anti-bullying, and confidence. Photo by Rainbow Storytime NZ. 

Listen to the full interview

While visiting your local library, you may have come across a rainbow storytime session. Rainbow or drag storytimes are lively, inclusive events where drag performers read stories and perform for an audience; usually young people and their parents. 

The Taranaki Drag Queens, behind Rainbow Storytime NZ, Erika Flash and CoCo Flash, told 95bFM’s The Wire that rainbow storytimes are an opportunity to share positive stories about accepting differences, showing kindness, anti-bullying, and building confidence.

Despite this, Avondale library was forced to close down during a drag storytime event last week because of protestors. 

This comes as drag performances for children have become the target of religious groups and right-wing extremists, particularly in the US where Republican legislators are moving to ban drag in several states.

Erika and CoCo were initially approached by libraries in Taranaki to put on rainbow storytime events for young people as well as adults, before taking bookings from other libraries around Aotearoa.

“Everyone else heard about it and said—we need drag queens coming to our libraries too! So it evolved naturally,” said CoCo.

In response to recent protests over rainbow storytimes, CoCo says they have never received any negativity from people who have come to the sessions.

“The ones who actually turn up absolutely adore it.”

“There is no questioning about our sexuality or gender. It's just people in fabulous frocks doing cool performances and reading cool books.”

Erika says the hate they receive is predominantly online. 

“A lot of these people have never even been. How do you have an opinion on something you have never even watched?”

Erika and CoCo warn that rangatahi are seeing the hateful attacks towards drag performers and queer people online, preventing them from being their authentic selves and negatively impacting their mental health.

“You don't have to come, just don't spread hate online. Don't tell other people how to raise their children,” said Erika.

According to Erika, in Taranaki, a teacher at a predominant boys school is among those who have commented hate online about their Rainbow Storytime sessions.

As a child, Erika says she liked to dress up, but was shunned and talked down to by peers and parents who "didn’t know any better". 

“I think it's important, especially for queer kids, to be able to see that they can express themselves, and just letting them know there are spaces for them.”

CoCo assures their brand and storytelling is a family-friendly experience curated for children and that they are professionals no different from other performers.

“We do have the capability of selecting what we choose and making what we perform appropriate. I think some people think drag queens lack that ability.”

Erika says increasing threats from extremists are a concern to not only drag performers, but children and those partaking, and need to be taken seriously. 

“You have to be quite strong and resilient to be a drag queen. But all of this negative feedback has put us on edge, and I think I speak for all drag queens doing rainbow storytimes."

"Every time I go to do a session, I have to think—is someone going to turn up with a weapon because they're not a fan of drag?"

The queens encourage parents new to rainbow storytime to attend one themselves, without their children and raise any questions they have with them instead of fueling misinformation online.

CoCo emphasises that hate is a learned habit and is why Rainbow Storytime is so important.

“We just want kindness from everybody towards everybody, and that's what we're trying to promote.”

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air