Akasha L Van-Cartier had a message for the 130 children and parents that attended the Carnegie Library’s Drag Queen Story Hour Saturday.
“You can be anything that you want to be, at any time you want to be it, and if you want to change what you want to be halfway through being it — do that,” Van-Cartier said.
Van-Cartier, a local drag queen, has performed at a variety of locations in Pittsburgh over the last 16 years. This past year, public libraries, ice cream parlors and children’s birthday parties were added to that list.
All over the country, Drag Queen Story Hour has been increasing in popularity since it started in San Francisco in 2015. Children liken to the colorful attire and performative personalities of drag queens at story hour, which often has an underlying theme of acceptance, identity and self-expression.
Van-Cartier said Drag Queen Story Hour is “all about love.” She said she hopes that it can teach children kindness and positive values.
“There’s no one that you turn away, there’s no one that you don’t befriend because they look different or they act different,” she said. “It’s all about loving each other, loving yourself and being yourself.”
In response to community requests and national popularity, the library reached out to Van-Cartier to do a one-time Drag Queen Story Hour last August. According to Shannon Barron, manager of the children’s department, the response was extremely positive and the library decided to make it a monthly event.
Story Hour involves singing and dancing with noisemakers and two stories read aloud by Van-Cartier while a sign language interpreter translates the program. After the program, there was a photobooth with props and activities centering on identity and self-love.
Ginny Beck, volunteer service coordinator at the library, said Drag Queen Story Hour encourages positive messages about acceptance and kindness.
“It’s important to respect people from all different backgrounds and have lots of different types of friends, so we thought this was one cool way to celebrate that,” Beck said.
Van-Cartier described the program as educational and a teaching moment, both things she has in mind when performing.
“It’s a different aspect of drag that people don’t expect,” Van-Cartier said. “It’s about letting people experience the differences that are out there in life.”
Van-Cartier also thinks the program is useful for parents. She believes it demonstrates to parents that an experience is easy to create by dressing up as a character and holds children’s attention better. To Van-Cartier, performance is an integral part in children’s learning.
Van-Cartier comes back each month because of the response from the children. She’s been given drawings of her that she proudly hangs on her fridge and some of the children call her Aunt Akasha.
Lindalee Sanchez, an 11-year-old from Bloomfield, said she came because “drag queens are inspiring.” She liked the books, the outfits, the jokes and the dancing that are part of the story time. But she especially liked that what Van-Cartier said sounded a lot like what her mom says — “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
“You never know what someone’s like if you don’t meet them,” Sanchez said.