Telling Tales: Performer Naomi Chomsky discusses Drag Queen Story Hour

Naomi Chomsky is a Rhode Island-based activist and performer who recently found themselves in the regional and national media spotlight at the center of what became a “controversial” Drag Queen Story Hour event booked in Fall River, Mass.  

Drag Queen Story Hour is exactly what it sounds like: queens in full garb reading children’s books to children, usually at a local library or other public space. Though the program has a well-established track record of providing children with an engaging edutainment experience, both the Fall River, Mass, story hour and another story hour booked in Bristol were met with pressure from extremist religious groups that demanded the event be cancelled based on what this writer assesses as a blend of their own misinformation, homophobia, transphobia, lack of empathy and anti-libertarianism. At one point, Bristol’s Rogers’ Free Library caved to the demands of these religious extremists, cancelling the event, only to reschedule it after wide protest and suffering much embarrassment.

During a recent interview, Chomsky described the experience of suddenly becoming “the face of Drag Queen Story Hour” in New England.

Bill Bartholomew (Motif): Let’s talk about this situation at the Bristol Rogers’ Free Library where there was a back and forth about a Drag Queen Story Hour event that was scheduled, but because of some kind of board pressure, internal parochial pressure, it was then canceled. Then there was sort of an uproar of sensible people coming to the forefront and the event ultimately went on. Is that a fair analysis?

Naomi Chomsky: Yeah. I agree. I actually was never the queen that was going to do Bristol. My event in Fall River was something that was organized completely separately. I sort of had a vague idea that something was going on in Bristol, but then they canceled like the last week of May.  That’s when Curt Schilling tweeted about me personally. 

This was all happening while I was in LA and I was like, “What the hell is happening here?”

It all blew up and suddenly, this very wholesome activity of reading to children becomes this big thing. Fall River wasn’t ever going ever cancel their event. That’s what the librarian told me. They really stood by it. So did the mayor and city council and all the elected officials, they wanted to make sure that this happened in that the Fall River’s first Pride celebration went without incident and it did. It was a great event. 

So, the next week, Bristol reinstates their story time.

BB: Yeah, surprise!

NC: Surprise, yeah. There was an uproar in the community, but it ended up happening and, from what I can see, it was just kind of the same as Fall River’s. I talked to the Bristol queen after and she was like, “Yeah, there were a couple of people outside praying but they didn’t give us any trouble.” So yeah., you know, it ended up being just fine as it turns out.

BB: It was shocking to me. I mean, Drag Queen Story Hour is something I’ve had experiences working with in New York, Newport,  it’s not a new thing. 

NC: It’s not a new thing at all. 

BB: It just sort of spoke to a certain segment of the population that just doesn’t want to do their homework and would rather just kind of lean on playing into extreme fears. 

NC:  Some of those people are the Bishop of the Archdiocese of Providence [Tobin].

BB: I mean, what is he thinking?

NC: I don’t know, up in his ivory tower or whatever. Yeah, the part about especially being harmful for children was really what got me on that, on that comment.  Actually, he’s actually dead wrong about it because I think what he may or may not realize is that there’s a lot of gender-confused children who may not have the language for it, but are going to grow up queer and, to see themselves represented in the library and on TV, I mean, I think that’s actually gonna save a lot of lives.

BB: Literally save a lot of lives and it’s going to provide that opportunity for awakening and for our self authenticity at an earlier point in life. 

NC: Yeah, absolutely.  I’m a little bit older, I’m 34.  My role models were Will and Grace, but they weren’t exactly the best, though. A little bit like white people stereotypes. But it was the representation and it was more than the previous generation had.

BB: Do you feel a sense of responsibility at this point in human history, in, where we are in these last years and where we’re heading in terms of culture, the dynamics of the country with the strong divide on some social issues? Do you feel a responsibility to sort of dial things in and try to bring a broader awakening to people? Or, do you feel like this is more of a contentious situation, you know, pushing back against, I hate to say it, but almost an enemy. 

NC: Yeah, I mean little. They are the enemy. That’s for sure. But I do feel a certain responsibility. From the time I graduated high school, I was marching against the war in Iraq. I do feel a certain responsibility to stand up for what’s right, always. This happens to affect me on a personal level. I didn’t expect it to be such a situation where I would be all over the news media from not just Providence, but Boston and beyond. I was even on Infowars, Alex Jones’ tin foil hat show. It was part of being in a contentious situation where I really had no choice but to be the face of story hour in New England, even today I’ve done two story hours and a third coming, but, somehow my face became the face of story hour here in New England I was forced to fight for what’s right.

Listen to the complete episode of The Bartholomewtown Podcast with Naomi Chomsky on your favorite app or bartholomewtown.com 

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