Drag Queens in public schools prompts Council infighting

Queens Councilwoman Vickie Paladino continues to draw criticism from local elected officials over a series of opinionated tweets directed against the “Drag Queen Story Hour” program. The new program, which according to a story published by The New York Post reportedly cost taxpayers more than $200,000 to fund, invites cross-dressing performers to read to local school children in New York City.

In her comments online, the Councilwoman refers to the program as an act of “child grooming” and “sexualization” in the schools. Paladino would later clarify her statement by claiming that it is part of the “political, social, and cultural indoctrination of impressionable young children, often without parental consent,” calling it both “unacceptable and inappropriate.”

In response, several members of the city council fired back calling her commentary “homophobic” and “hateful.”

In a recent interview with Pix11 News, City Councilman Erik Bottcher said that her comparison was completely off base. “A groomer is a child molester,” Bottcher explains. “To compare my community to child molesters is totally unacceptable.”

Paladino, however, argued that her commentary was intended to shed light on the spending priorities of the city administration, however, due to how it was presented online, was viewed by colleagues as a personal attack.

As a result, Paladino found herself in hot water, while several Democratic city officials fired back with statements of their own, condemning her over “bigoted comments” regarding the program—-which is intended to promote the acceptance of queer youth in schools—-and calling for her to be formally censored and stripped of her committee assignments.

“This type of hatred shouldn’t be tolerated from anyone, especially another elected official,” Councilwoman Lynn Schulman tweeted in response. “As a proud lesbian member of the New York City Council from Queens and a funder of Drag Queens Story Hour I am saddened and angry that a colleague would be threatened by the teaching of tolerance in our schools.”

Openly gay City Councilman Chi Ossé also fired back on Twitter, stating that as chairman of the Committee on Cultural affairs he condemns the bigoted remarks made in regards to the nonprofit program which teaches acceptance to the City’s youth.

“NYC is a safe haven where our queer community is welcomed and loved,” Ossé said in his response.

Co-chairs of the LGBTQIA+ Caucus Councilwoman Crystal Hudson and Councilwoman Tiffany Cabán also admonished the statements made by Paladino, reiterating that the program is a “wonderful, wholesome, and vital program” that invites children to see themselves as unique individuals with the right to be whoever they want. “It shows queer youth and their peers alike that each of our existence is valid — that we all belong.”

In response to the outpour of complaints against her, Paladino issued a statement on Friday, reaffirming that her stance was strictly in opposition to the use of taxpayer dollars and that her statements were not intended as a personal attack or accusation against anyone.

“At a time when there has been a dramatic increase in the crime rate in New York City and a large number of New Yorkers are struggling to make ends meet by living paycheck to paycheck, I would like to make one thing very clear: I am NOT apologizing or retracting my statement against using taxpayer dollars to fund Drag Queen Story Hour in our public schools,” Paladino said in an official statement.

Paladino maintained that her stance was made on behalf of her constituents in Queens, several of whom she said are concerned over the propagation of gender confusion and adult entertainment in public schools.

Paladino added that she was appalled by the reaction of her colleagues considering the vast number of issues currently facing our city, including homelessness, housing, mental health, public safety, and food shortages.

“Let me be clear – I fully support adults making their own free decision about who they are and how to express themselves… but I do NOT condone exposing little children to inappropriate narratives that encourage gender radicalism,” Paladino said in her statement.

While this is a new program for public schools, Drag Queen Story Hour has been featured at public libraries since 2017.

Councilwoman Julie Won recently attended one of the many Drag Story Hour events at the Queens Public Library in Woodside as a show of support to the LGBTQ+ community.

“This is a wonderful program that teaches children about inclusion and the history of the LGBTQ community,” Won said in her tweet. “As long as I am in council, I will continue to support programs like DSH to build communities that are inclusive and loving to all forms of self expression.”

Paladino still feels there is still much to be discussed. In her statement, she concludes by extending the opportunity for open dialogue with any of her fellow Council members who wish to take her up on the offer.

Entertainment: Local drag scene celebrates Pride Month

By Stephanie Meditz

With Pride Month well underway, Brooklyn’s drag performances are more lively and glittery than ever before.

Three queens, Purss’ophonie, Piper, and Adra Quartz, shared their experiences in the Brooklyn and Queens drag scenes as well as their own stories of self-acceptance and expression.

All three queens revealed that, although drag allows them to transform both physically and mentally, their drag personas give them feelings of freedom and confidence that remain even after they remove their makeup.

Emilio Moreno, known by their drag name, “Purss’ophonie,” never felt inclined towards drag until they hit a rough patch in their life, rediscovered RuPaul’s Drag Race, and felt represented by the queens on the show, specifically Bob the Drag Queen.

The 29-year old’s drag persona is influenced by the Black and Brown communities that raised them.

The name is a reference to Persephone, the Greek goddess of the Underworld, but it’s also a literal reference to a phony purse as a nod to their roots.

“It’s basically an homage to when the culture gets stolen or we can’t afford it and we have to get our own bags,” they said. “So instead of coming from the underworld, I come from the sewer with my fake bags. No spring.”

Moreno’s performances are usually dance routines to Black, Brown, female, or queer artists, such as Doechii, Azealia Banks, Beyoncé, and Alex Newell.

Pedro Suarez similarly crafted his drag persona, “Adra Quartz,” after a difficult time in his life.

Doing drag was only a thought in the back of his mind until a friend gave him the opportunity to try it out using her makeup.

Suarez got his start after a New York City queen, Iodine Quartz, adopted him as her “drag child,” meaning she took him under her wing, taught him how to do drag makeup, and introduced him to other queens.

He gave his first drag performance on his 22nd birthday at a competition in Philadelphia, which he won.

Adra Quartz struts her stuff in one of her favorite outfits.

Suarez earned a BFA in dance from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria in 2017. His performances reflect his background as a dancer and artist.

“I think of myself more as a choreography queen,” he said. “Like I’d rather pull out an 8-count than do a little split. And I feel like you’re just showcasing a little bit more talent. You just made this up, whether it be on the spot or prepared in your head.”

Audrey Long, a performer under the drag name, “Piper,” also has roots as a competitive dancer.

Originally from Fort Worth, Texas, the 23-year-old discovered drag through RuPaul’s Drag Race and regularly attended drag shows in college before trying it out themself.

They see drag as an outlet for the performer in them, and their performances typically include high kicks, splits, audience interaction, and high-energy movement inspired by early 2000s pop divas like Britney Spears.

Long is a graduate student in social work at New York University to become a gender therapist.

“I think, being a queer kid in a small southern town, New York was always the epitome of really making it,” Long said. “Like getting out of the small town and moving to the big city was always something I had thought about but never really thought that it was possible.”

The Brooklyn drag scene, which described by Suarez as “disgusting in the best way,” is characterized by unpredictable, often shocking performances and a strong sense of community.

“There are no limits to the drag in Brooklyn,” Moreno said. “Meaning I’ve heard stories of people doing crazy stuff onstage and actually getting physical reactions from the audience.”

They described one performance in which a queen acted as a human wrecking ball during a crowded barbecue at The Metropolitan in Williamsburg.

The scene’s openness to a variety of unconventional performances, however, is a testament to its diverse members and the unconditional support between them.

“Where everyone comes from, they bring a little bit of themselves,” Moreno said, referencing the personal and cultural relevance behind many drag performances. “And I feel like Brooklyn is a place where they’re celebrated rather than tolerated.”

Long shares the sentiment that Brooklyn is a hotspot for some of the strangest drag performances, but they also see it as a land of opportunity for newcomers to drag and a safe place for performers to showcase their art without fear of judgment.

“In Brooklyn, you can do anything and people will still live for it,” Long said. “You can literally stand there to cricket noises for four minutes and the crowd will go wild and you’d probably make lots of money. It’s the silly, fun things like that that really make me love Brooklyn as a borough and as a community scene.”

Piper’s look is completely self-styled.

As a nonbinary drag performer, Long expressed that although many drag spaces are centered around cisgender men, they have never felt excluded from the Brooklyn scene.

They see drag as an outlet for expressing the femininity that they don’t always present, and performing as Piper has boosted their overall confidence.

“Piper has taught Audrey a lot,” they said. “I feel more comfortable in myself. Having Piper be able to wear the frilly costumes and put on all the makeup, it makes me feel like I have more of a balance in my day-to-day identity.”

Suarez, who is masculine-presenting outside of drag, also uses drag to express another aspect of his identity that often goes unseen.

“My drag is a different side of who I am,” he said. “Once the wig and the lashes go on, then you definitely see that personality switch.”

Such self-acceptance and expression are major components of Pride Month in the drag scene.

“To me, I think Pride is almost like renewing your wedding vows,” Long said. “Just that reaffirming of how grateful I am to be queer and be able to live my authentic self with the people that I love.”

However, Pride is still fundamentally a call for action and political change.

In addition to performing at bars, parties, and parades, many New York City queens participate in political activism or community-based events like those in public libraries.

“Pride month is definitely still a resistance movement and there’s a lot of work to be done in our society as well as our own community in terms of misogyny, transphobia, racism, classism, and a lot of gatekeeping,” Moreno said. “We have come a very long way so we do get the privilege to celebrate where we’re at, but it’s always a reminder that there are people that are still marginalized.”

For Moreno, the very act of doing drag is a political statement, especially given the beginning of the gay liberation movement.

“There are people that don’t even have rights in this world the same way that we do,” Moreno said. “And we have to fight as best as we can to just make sure that we’re bringing everybody up… It was one brick thrown at Stonewall, but fifty drag queens behind it.”

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