NASHUA — A teen storytime event planned by the city library and set to feature a local drag queen has raised questions about whether it’s appropriate from a conservative New Hampshire organization, Cornerstone Action.
Drag-Queen Teen Time is not a drag show, but will feature Monique Toosoon, a drag queen performer who hosts 21-and-older shows throughout the state.
Toosoon will be reading poetry to city teens next weekend, material that was selected by library leaders and focuses on topics such as diversity, inclusion and feeling different, according to director Jennifer McCormack.
“This is not a drag show by any means. She will not be introducing topics appropriate for adult audiences,” McCormack said Friday. “This is more about theater.”
While McCormack said the event will provide teenagers the opportunity to discuss art, makeup, costuming and hair, a legal representative with Cornerstone Action said there are reasons for residents to be alarmed.
“It is not about the makeup and fun dressing up. This is about a culture of highly explicit pornography that goes along with this. To pretend that you can separate the two is just not happening,” said attorney Christopher Jay with Cornerstone Action.
And while the teen storytime is designed to be a family-friendly event, and there will be no drag show taking place, Jay said Toosoon’s shows for those age 21 and older have featured drag queens dressed in nun habits with skin-colored leotards and sex simulation.
“I think we can all stop pretending about this. ... It is hoodwinking, I think, parents in the community,” Jay said.
Cornerstone Action, based in Concord, is the public policy arm of Cornerstone Policy Research. The nonprofit says it supports First Amendment religious liberties, defends against discrimination of people of faith and attempts to strengthen family bonds.
Toosoon, who asked that her real name not be disclosed, said Friday that the backlash is disheartening.
“It actually makes me feel really bad. I am doing this for the teens. I am doing this to make a positive influence on someone’s life. I am not trying to groom anyone,” she said.
Teen suicide in the LGBT community is on the rise, according to Toosoon, who said the event provides a safe forum for teens to ask questions, express themselves or just talk.
“I hope I can stop that one person from committing suicide and show people there is hope out there. This is a censored event,” she said. “I am a human being. I am a normal person outside of here, and I am going into this with 100 percent positive vibes.”
McCormack said the program, set to take place at 4 p.m. this Saturday at the library, was planned by the head of the library’s teen department in response to different interests from teen patrons.
She stressed that no adult content will be discussed, and the topics will be appropriate for teens.
“Our hope is that kids can see in real life that this is a human being with an interest in performance and get some firsthand information about it, and probably remove some of that mystique from it,” McCormack said.
The city previously hosted its first Pride Festival this past summer, and LGBT topics are frequently in the media, she said, adding the Drag-Queen Teen Time seems to fit with the current event issues popular among teens.
“It is meant to be oriented to teens themselves,” said McCormack, explaining the library had explored the possibility of a drag queen event for younger children, but has since nixed that idea based on community feedback.
McCormack says she has received about an equal number of messages from supporters and opponents.
“I know this invitation won’t be received well, but I hope those upset will come and observe,” she said.
Jay said local taxpayers should be made aware of the events taking place at the library, which is funded with taxpayer money. Parents have a right to know that the library is promoting the event as family-friendly, even though the performer — during her 21-and-older shows — is highly sexual and has group members with sexually explicit names, Jay said.
He is unaware of any formal protests being planned for the storytime.
“I do know that one of the things Cornerstone emphasizes is we always reiterate that these conversations need to be respectful and contribute to building the community instead of hurting people because we sincerely believe this activity is already hurting people to begin with,” he said.
The beauty of a public library, according to McCormack, is that a wide variety of programs may be hosted at the venue, and programs with different points of view are welcomed in Nashua.
Adults have had mixed reactions about the event, sharing their views on social media.
“I personally think this is fantastic, and I am glad the library is doing this,” posted Nicole Bergeron. “I am also very happy that, for the most part, Nashua is an incredibly progressive city.”
Others, including Todd Beaulieu, described the event as a “predatory tactic” and serious issue, adding that a drag queen should not be speaking with teens about their future.