The small town of Fall River, Massachusetts recently held its first Pride celebration, including a Drag Queen Storytime at the local library on June 1 featuring “Naomi Chomsky,” a popular Marxist drag queen based in Providence, Rhode Island. Rightwing homophobes including Catholic Bishop Tobin condemned and protested the event, and attempted to have it cancelled. However, Storytime not only took place, but extra sessions had to be added to accommodate all the families who wanted to participate.
Chomsky works in healthcare as a Med Tech nurse’s aid at a nursing home. Liberation News interviewed Chomsky about the struggle over Drag Queen Storytime.
Liberation: Can you give us the background on Drag Storytime?
Naomi Chomsky: Drag Storytime is nothing new. It’s been in the news a lot. I was approached by Fall River Pride. They wanted to kick off their Pride Month with a Drag Queen Storytime. And then the next day Fall River, Massachusetts had its first Pride celebration. Which is hard to believe. It’s 20 minutes down the road from Providence and they now — in 2019 — had their first Pride. I was approached by them, and I thought, “Why not? I’m helping to promote a great social institution — the library — promoting literacy, and teaching children at a young age that queerness is good, that it’s not like this menacing thing.’ I wasn’t so naive as to think that there wouldn’t be backlash, but I had no idea that it was going to blow up to the point where it is now.
Queer people live everywhere. And I was once such a queer kid. I grew up in a small town called Tiverton, Rhode Island. It’s lovely. It’s a lovely place to visit, very scenic. Right next to it is Fall River. It’s a small city, but one where a bunch of queer people live, and yet they have to leave the city to have events or to go to events where they can just be queer out loud. I enjoy when people come up from Fall River to events in Providence but they shouldn’t have to. And it’s important for people who are maybe disabled or don’t have transportation options, who can’t get up to larger cities. It’s important for them to participate in events that are pertinent to their lives.”
What were your goals with the event?
I just wanted to read to some kids. But my biggest goals were to promote inclusivity, equality, shed some light in an age-appropriate manner to the gender diversity that is all around us. It’s important in a moment where trans people are fighting for visibility and rights. Right now especially, trans rights are under attack. I wanted to start a conversation among all age groups and I feel like adults stand to learn the lessons that I was trying to teach children as well.
Others objected to your politics?
I didn’t bring politics into this at all, even though I’m a socialist. People dug into my Facebook timeline to find the most ‘outrageous’ things. A lot of stuff about criticizing the police came up. I don’t understand the fetishization of, or why people get so bent out of shape when you criticize the institution of policing.
But I didn’t bring any of that to the table. It was dug up. And it was thrown into my face. And even if I wasn’t any of those things, they would’ve found something. They would just try to discredit any drag queen that tried to read to children. Story Hour, at least in Fall River, is something that happens monthly. And I can guarantee you that I was the only one who was researched so thoroughly. No one would be looking for it if I were anybody else. I think that’s the crux of the backlash. It’s bigotry, it’s homophobia. Fun fact, my childhood church was one of the churches that protested me. That was cool. It’s also how my grandparents found out I did drag. They knew about the queer stuff, they know I’m a communist, but now queer commie drag queen. That was cute.
Your story has spread quite far — how do you feel about that?
So many people have reached out. The day of, folks would come up to me and they wanted to take a picture and would tell me just how much this means to them. I did get some queer families that came and said, “We are so happy to see this happening in our city. There’s not a lot we can do because we have kids to take care of.” Straight folks, a lot of moms and dads too, were coming up to say how wonderful this is and how their child is excited to see someone who looks like a Disney princess come read to them. And then after the event, I got a lot of support in that community that I had back here. I was welcomed back. We protested Bishop Tobin for his homophobic tweets [on June 2]. I couldn’t help but feel personally attacked by the part where he said it’s especially harmful for children to be at LGBTQ events. I’m very loved and supported here and that will outweigh any and all backlash. That’s all I’m gonna remember. The smiles on children’s faces and the gratitude in parents’ eyes.
The local government brought police, against my wishes, but it didn’t make me feel safer. Of course safety was in the back of my mind, someone did come down with me at my father’s request. My father was like, ‘Please don’t go in that library alone.’ And I didn’t. But, you know, nothing happened. And I don’t think even if there weren’t a ton of police there, I don’t think anything would have happened. I didn’t even see the protesters. There were about 30 of them. They were praying. I was scuttled in through a backdoor.”
What about media coverage of the events?
It’s been quite positive. I’ve done a lot of back and forth with the Massachusetts Family Institute. They made comments comparing drag to blackface, and called it misogynistic. But they’re fighting to restrict women’s bodies. They also are proponents of conversion therapy. I said this to everybody, and mentioned how these groups are attacking abortion rights— but none of the media printed that. They sort of softened my message a little bit, as they do.
I have a previous relationship with the Providence Community Library system. I’ll be doing Drag Story Hour on July 20th at the Rochambeau branch of the Providence Community Library. I do have more Story Hours coming. I don’t know what’s going to happen in Fall River. The Fall River Library seems interested in doing it again, maybe making it an annual event to kick off Pride Month in Fall River, so stay tuned. It’s the first time I ever was invited to read to children but it won’t be the last.