Allentown ‘drag story hour’ draws families, minor disruption

Written by on September 23, 2022

Allentown ‘drag story hour’ draws families, minor disruption

By Julian Abraham
September 23, 2022

Drag performer Honey Mustard — who goes by Eric Yoak out of costume, and organizer/author Robin Gow. (Photos by Julian Abraham/WLVR News)

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Families sat around a colorful library room Friday as a costumed drag queen read a book titled “King and King” — about two princes who fall in love — to attentive children.

When one of the kids started crying, the drag queen, who goes by the name Honey Mustard, told the little girl it’s OK to have “big feelings,” and joked that she sometimes feels the same way.

When not in costume, the drag performer goes by the name Eric Yoak, and serves as the major events manager at the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, where the story hour was held.

Yoak, whose past careers include working as a character attendant at Disney World, said the story hour provides something that was missing during his own childhood.

“I grew up in eastern Kentucky, where we didn’t have a lot of queer representation,” Yoak said. “We didn’t have kids’ books, we didn’t have people that were actually out and telling their stories, and doing the work to make sure that the representation was there.”

He said such events are important because kids can see different types of people than those usually shown in children’s entertainment.

“You know, there has been such a representation of cis[gender] white people,” Yoak said. “And it’s time to break that mold, and show there’s room for everybody – there is a seat at the table for everybody. That’s what this event is about — is showcasing these types of stories for kids to grow up and say, ‘You know, I remember that, and I loved that story.’”

Social media backlash

Not everyone apparently feels that way.

A Facebook post promoting the event had more than 300 comments, many critical, and many others in support of the story hour. The post was from PBS39, which is part of Lehigh Valley Public Media and sponsored and helped organize the drag story hour.

Some commenters called the event sexually inappropriate for children, or politicized. Others expressed concern that PBS39 helped organize the event and receives public funding.

Comments in favor included expressions that the event promoted inclusion and celebrated diversity.

Robin Gow, who is among the event’s organizers, says many critics are missing an important distinction: not all drag is the same.

“People don’t know about drag,” Gow said. “They think that, like, this is the same thing that happens in a nightclub is happening here. And drag performers can do that, but there’s also drag for kids, and that’s what we’re doing here – which is totally family entertainment.”

Gow is also an author who writes books for LGBTQ+ young adults.

Honey Mustard, with Tiffany Ruffin’s 3-year-old daughter.

Unwelcome guest

Organizers said a small prayer group stood outside the center before the story hour started, but left shortly after. And the event went off mostly without a hitch – although a situation inside did have to be de-escalated by staff.

A man wearing a shirt with the words “Rainbow Warrior” walked in, saying he was there to “check out the story time.” He remained quiet for the entire performance, taking videos and photos on his phone.

During snack time and an arts and crafts portion afterward, he approached children and families, asking questions about their parents’ sexual identity and parenting styles. He also asked if the children – some as young as 3 – were going to grow up to be gay.

Some parents complained to event staff, and the man was asked to leave.

While being escorted from the building, he refused requests for an interview and would not give his name. He described himself as a protester, though he later said he was “neutral.”

Tiffany Ruffin, a mother at the event with her 3- and 1-year-old children, was approached by the man and visibly bothered by the encounter.

Tearing up while getting ready to leave, Ruffin, who is gay, expressed to the event organizers: “My kids are gonna grow up to be who they want to be.”

After the event, the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center issued the following statement:

“Our team works to create safe and celebratory spaces for LGBTQ+ youth and families. People with extremist beliefs don’t feel that our community deserves these spaces. We remain committed to this mission and will continue to uphold and expand this program as there is a need for it in the community.”


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