Written by: Mary Howden
The popularity of Drag has been on the rise in Britain with the emergence of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK TV programmes.
Also on the rise are Drag Queen shows aimed at children. In the US, these include Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH), Drag Queen Brunch, Bring Baby Drag Bingo and Drag Queen Kids Klub. They claim to “inspire a love of reading, while teaching deeper lessons on diversity, self-love and an appreciation of others" and “to instil the imagination and play of gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly ‘queer’ role models".
Drag Queen Story Hour UK, aimed at 0-12 year-olds, was founded in the UK to bring this phenomenon here. It aims "To provide fun and interactive kids shows…… show the world that being different is not a bad thing, and by providing imaginative role models for children to look up to, we can change the world book by book!" and it's founder, Aida H Dee, says "we are built out of the dreams of children let these dreams be fabulous".
Why are people so keen to take their children to drag shows?
After all drag is adult sexualised entertainment. It is often lewd and very explicit. In recent weeks there has been an increase in images of children on social media with Drag Queens stripping for money, at Pride events being soaked with a fake penis or twerked at.
If we complain we are told we are “pearl clutching”, “far-right” “homophobic” and “bigots.”
“You just know that the people pretending to be livid that a drag queen read a book in a school. . . are also the people who run out to buy their kids the latest Grand Theft Auto on release day. Your homophobia is transparent.”
But rather than call us bigots, it would be more helpful to answer the concerns raised and reassure us that child safety and safeguarding is paramount. Persuade us that using men dressed up as parodies of women in sexualised costumes are better role models for diversity than gay or lesbian authors, teachers or parents. Explain why the sexualised components of drag, the erasure of boundaries and the impact on children is not a concern for all of us.
Why is drag a safeguarding issue?
The NSPCC state: "Safeguarding is the action that is taken to promote the welfare of children and protect them from harm.
protecting children from abuse and maltreatment
preventing harm to children’s health or development
ensuring children grow up with the provision of safe and effective care
taking action to enable all children and young people to have the best outcomes."
The erasure of boundaries undermines safeguarding
Some of the stated aims of these drag events for children are to explore gender fluidity, provide queer role models and breakdown the notion of a sex binary.
But what does having a queer role model mean? We assume it’s a gay or lesbian role model but in fact it is much more. It is to say that gender identity is more important than sex. We are telling children that girls can be boys and boys can be girls.
As Transgender Trend point out in their article about what children are being taught in schools;
“Queer in this context means to blur boundaries, to destabilise reality, to say it doesn’t matter what sex you are, your gender is the most important thing about you.”
Children are already being force-fed gender ideology – drag further normalises this in the adult world and confuses them. It makes the unacceptable behaviour of adults to children outside safe settings harder to challenge and it makes it difficult to create safe spaces for children and young people’s concerns to be heard.
Drag queen Ginger Ladd says “Drag shows teach kids that there are no boundaries and nobody can tell them who they are” and that "I'm desperate to show everybody my love, and have them receive that love for what it is".
Slogans which have affiliations to paedophilia such as “love has no age”, “being who you are and loving who you want”, and "I'm desperate to show everybody my love, and have them receive that love for what it is" combined with sexualised costumes and behaviour are a safeguarding issue.
The Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) 1974 to 1984 campaigned to lower the age of consent using the slogan “no age limit on love". Asda were also forced to remove materials with the “Love Has No Age” slogan when Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne wrote to them pointing out the inappropriateness of the slogan.
There is an age of consent in this country which any organisation working with children must respect.
The sexualised component of drag undermines safeguarding
Drag queens claim to tone down their acts to suit the audience, yet sexualised costumes and behaviour are common. Nine- to eleven-year-olds are quite able to look things up on the internet. Perhaps they enjoyed the show and are curious about the performer. Potentially they could be sent to a highly sexualised website or social media platform. It is not hard to find sexualised images of Drag Queens after all that is the whole purpose of their shows.
Drag Queen names can be perceived as witty but what impact do they have on children. Take Aida H Dee for example. What if you're a child with ADHD? Does this normalise it or does it make fun of it? What about Flow Job? Is this appropriate for primary school children?
As Drag Queen Kitty Demure says “Spreading your legs and rubbing your breasts for children doesn’t make you a queen it makes you a groomer”.
The impact of drag on children undermines safeguarding
It is true that there is a long tradition of men dressing up as women in the arts. However, this is now being promoted at a time when we are teaching children that girls can be boys and boys can be girls as if it is fact. We are confusing our children and causing them emotional and psychological distress as adolescents. When we deliberately blur the sex binary, we are telling children not to trust what they can see and hear.
Safe Schools Alliance say in their article Drag Queens in Schools:
"The conflation of sex and gender results in greater confusion for children and encourages them to believe that a boy may be a girl if only he puts on a dress”
Children who have been sexually abused are vulnerable to the message that it is acceptable for adults to behave in a sexualised way in front of children. Children who are already being sexually abused by an adult in their life may feel that they cannot complain about this behaviour.
What impact does attending these events have on their already fragile sense of self? Does witnessing sexualised shows that want to break down boundaries reinforce their belief that they are to blame for what is happening to them?
DQSH is also reinforcing stereotypes of what it is like to be a gay man. As the Women’s Rights Network blog on Drag and Homophobia illustrates, we are telling children and young people gay men wear women’s clothes act like sexualised parodies of women and gay men are not like other men.
Safeguarding loopholes will be exploited
We are assured by providers that risks have been assessed and drag and children’s websites state that performers have been disclosure checked. Some organisations have a safeguarding policy, too. But, when boundaries are erased between adults and children safeguarding loopholes are created which attract predators.
In the US men who are drag queens or are associated with DQSH have been arrested for child sexual abuse offences.
Judge Brett Blomme – a former head of the Cream City LGBTQ+ Foundation which sponsored a Drag Queen Story Hour program – was arrested on charges of possession of child pornography. (Also reported here)
Brice Patric Ryschon Williams a drag queen who performed in front of children was arrested with images of child pornography
There are concerns in the UK too, because predators look for ways to access children and find activities which make it easy for them. Activities which wittingly or unwittingly give the message of no safeguards for children.
In 2013 drag queen Robert Clothier was caught in a Paedophile sting
In 2018 British Airways hired drag queen Darren Sewell who was a convicted paedophile to represent them at a Pride event.
In 2019 drag queen Mama G, who celebrates tales of "being who you are and loving who you want", taught young children to twerk at a Devon library.
In April 2020 DQSH tweeted the slogan "Love has no age". That tweet has since been deleted and a statement was made that DQSH do not support MAP (meaning “Minor Attracted Person”).
In 2020 Mhairi Black MP accompanied the drag queen Flow Job to a Paisley primary school. Flow Job has a social media account that uses sexually explicit language and images. He posted pictures of the primary school children on his account without parental permission.
Even frozen food brand McCain’s got themselves into trouble in June 2022 when they ran an advertisement by drag queen Baga Chipz, their Creative Director, promoting “knockers” to children. The ad campaign was pulled following complaints:
“However, in one of the featured videos, we appreciate that the use of innuendo alongside the Potato Smiles product could be seen to be inappropriate. No matter how popular Potato Smiles may be among our young adult audience, we recognize this is a product predominantly enjoyed by children. As a result, the video will no longer feature as the campaign continues into July.”
Finally, when you are called a bigot and hateful member of the far right for challenging the validity of drag as an educational tool for children, it means there are very few dissenting voices. One voice who stands out is Drag Queen Kitty Demure who says - “I have is no idea why you would want a Drag Queen to influence your child".