Audrey Cisneros was 8 years old when she attended her first drag show.

Now 9, she considers herself an expert on Fresno’s thriving drag scene — and was even named an honorary “princess” by the Imperial Dove Court, an LGBT-focused charity led by local drag queens.

But Audrey is realizing it’s not an easy thing for people to understand — especially her fellow fifth-graders. Here’s how she puts it:

“A drag show is a very, very fun and special event where people can express themselves for who they really are, and show it to everyone that is in the room. You don’t judge people just because they dress up as the opposite gender or because they love someone of the same gender. Just be proud of them, don’t fight it.”

On Saturday, Audrey and other children attend a drag queen story hour hosted by My LGBT Plus. Similar events have been held across the country, aiming to familiarize kids with the gay community and give them “glamorous, positive and unabashedly queer role models.”

Audrey’s mom, Tracie Cisneros of Fresno, introduced her to same-sex couples at a young age, and tries to expose her to as many different people as possible, urging her to combat bullying and discrimination.

“She was born with a gigantic heart, but I would like to think that these experiences with me have enabled her to be completely comfortable with herself, and with somebody different,” Cisneros said. “When I was younger, I was only one of a handful of voices for friends of mine who were gay or struggling, and I wish there had been more of us. It’s especially important with this political climate we’re in, where it feels we’ve taken a step backward, that Audrey understands how to be an ally.”

Cisneros has heard criticism from friends and family who think Audrey is too young to have these societal conversations, but she stands by it.

“There is no such thing as too young to learn that this community that we’re in, this beautiful world that we live in, is made up of millions of different types of people. That’s foolish,” Cisneros said. “There are so many opportunities in this world to be exposed to positive people, no matter what they look like, who they love, what religion or nationality. To me, there is no time but the present.”

Drag queens teach children to be who they are and to express themselves artistically, Cisneros said.

“As a mom, I don’t know what Audrey’s life is going to look like — who she will become as an adult. I don’t know what passions she’s going to discover or what’s going to make her tick. But I am confident that with all the experiences she’s had, that whatever it is, she will be 100 percent comfortable with that decision,” Cisneros said. “I want nothing more for her than to just be happy and know that she can walk out of the house and hold her head high no matter what she’s wearing or whose hand she’s holding.”

Leilani Price has been doing drag for six years. She has served as Miss Gay Fresno, and holds the title of empress on the Imperial Dove Court. Earlier this month, she was the first drag queen in nearly 30 years to host Fresno’s gay pride parade.

Price has seen the internet comments on the videos of other drag queens hosting children’s story hours: That kids shouldn’t be exposed to people like her. That she must have a mental disorder to do what she does.

“I try not to respond negatively, but sometimes it’s really hard,” said Price, 32. “We may not make sense to people, but we’re no different than any other artist. We are choosing to be expressive, not suppressive.”

Price identifies as a gay man and performs drag shows once a week at FAB Fresno. Price usually goes by she/her.

While Price is thankful for TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, which have made drag queens more mainstream, she wants people to realize that there’s no one-size-fits-all kind of queen, and that they have a lot to offer their communities.

“We try to be larger than life,” Price said. “I want kids to know their worth — to be who you want to be.”

Justin Kamimoto, founder of My LBGT Plus, this year opened another nonprofit, Common Space. It aims to be an inclusive gathering space for events, and will host the drag queen story hour on Saturday.

“What we see happening in our community is that events like these are either hosted at a church or at a bar. You can’t have kids at a bar, and some don’t want to be associated with a church,” Kamimoto said. “That’s why we created this setting — an environment that is open and accepting. Because some people just don’t have a place where they feel welcomed.”

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(c)2017 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)

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