CHULA VISTA — Two drag queens took the stage Tuesday as planned for the first Drag Queen Storytime at a Chula Vista library, while outside a crowd of about 200 supporters and protesters took over a parking lot.
The event went off without a hitch despite weeks of opposition and requests for the city to call it off, as has happened in other communities across the country in response to similar story times. Instead, the opposition gave rise to a wave of support as the city and many members of the community stood behind the event.
On Tuesday, police set up two “free speech zones” — separated by barriers — that allowed both groups to voice their opinions, with officers, some in plainclothes, between the two sides.
On the one side, supporters, who slightly outnumbered protesters, said the story time was an opportunity to teach children acceptance and tolerance.
“No hate, no fear — everyone is welcome here,” they chanted. The group included residents, faith leaders and elected officials such as Mayor Mary Salas.
On the other side, some protesters said they didn’t think the event was age-appropriate, while others preached about it going against their religious beliefs. Opponents included residents, ministers and members of an anti-LGBTQ group known as MassResistance.
The controversy over the event spilled into an evening City Council meeting, with residents speaking in support and against the story time.
In the hour before the story time began, supporters gathered at nearby Friendship Park.
Chula Vista Councilman Steve Padilla urged the group to remain focused on their message of love.
“They want us to get angry,” he said. “They want us to get angry so they can have a spectacle …”
“We are going to do something much more powerful,” he said, drawing an applause.
Story time supporters chanted, “Say it loud, say it clear: Everyone is welcome here,” as they marched toward the library.
Salas said she viewed the story time as a way to teach children that no matter what they may face or however different they may feel — “whether they have big ears or walk with a limp” — they are accepted.
Salas said she tried to talk to as many protesters against the event as she could.
“They’re saying they’re praying for us? Well, I’m praying for them, too. That they come to some level of understanding,” Salas said of the protesters.
The mayor told the group of supporters not to lose hope and to keep trying to peacefully explain the purpose of the story time.
Some of the protesters said they did not have a problem with drag queens, but that they did not want them around children.
Dolores Williams, 66, of the Skyline area of San Diego, said she was there for her youngest grandchildren, ages 12 and 14.
“I am standing up for the rights of children to grow up as children and not to be indoctrinated into this kind of thing,” said Williams.
Hector Gastelum, who serves on the Otay Water District board, criticized Salas and Padilla for promoting the event, which he said was irresponsible.
“This material is just not age-appropriate for kids,” he said.
Chula Vista mom Rachel Danford-Smith said the event was exactly what she wanted her children, Grady and Anna, exposed to in order to teach them tolerance and love.
“I am really big on diversity,” said Danford-Smith, who teared up explaining why she brought her 3-year-old and 1-year-old.
“I want my children to know that we come from all walks of life and that it’s OK to be who you are,” she said.
Danford-Smith said her 1-year-old daughter, Anna, was exhausted from chasing bubbles during the entire story time.
“It was a lot fun. It was very interactive,” she said.
Sister Donatella Soul, a drag queen, brought Dr. Seuss books and crayons for the kids, saying she wanted the youngsters to realize they didn’t have to conform to society or religion by carrying guilt or stigma.
“I just want them to have joy in their life and make sure they stay in touch with their authentic self,” she said. She was not reading to the kids on this occasion but said she knew people who had participated in similar events.
Inside the library, parents and children filled an auditorium during two sessions of a lively story time with Raquelita and Barbie Q, the two drag queens who read picture books, danced and sang to the audience.
Many of the parents and children sported shiny gold crowns, feather boas and rainbow, heart-shaped stickers.
The crowd laughed and snapped their fingers as the duo on stage read two books: “Julián is a Mermaid” — a tale about a boy who makes his own mermaid costume at home, inspired by three women he sees on a subway — and “It’s Okay to Be Different,” which delivers a message of acceptance, tolerance and confidence.
And when Raquelita and Barbie Q performed two songs from Disney classics — “Part of Your World” from “The Little Mermaid” and “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana” — the audience sang along and cheered them on.
Spring Valley resident Gabriela Prendimano said she felt it was all the more important to turn out to support the LGBTQ community in response to the opposition.
“I’m not going to let her grow up thinking that it’s OK to be hateful like these people outside,” she said, looking over at her daughter.
Courtney Ware, of Spring Valley, said it was clear to her which side was right about the event.
“It was everything that the library promised it would be and nothing that the haters said it would be,” she said as she carried her toddler son, who wore a golden crown.
“The whole room was filled with positive energy,” she added. “I almost felt like crying.”
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