On Groundhog Day, 2019, I was honored to take part in what was referred to as The Wall of Love. It was a call for support in our community on a frigid morning (think low single digits with a bitter wind chill). The fact that a few hundred counter protestors arrived to offer love in the face of fundamentalist ‘Christian’ protestors, for an event taking place inside the Lansdale Public Library spoke volumes about the passion for social justice in this area. A local actor with the stage names of Annie Christ and Miss Annie reached out to the library to ask to create Drag Queen Story Time at which books that highlight inclusivity called Sparkle Boy and Naked Rat Mole Gets Dressed were to be read to the children and their families. The reaction from those who claim to be concerned about children being indoctrinated into a subversive and unacceptable lifestyle was immediate and vocal.
In advance, we were asked to make signs that were:
- family friendly
- children’s artwork
- rainbows and glittery images, hearts etc
- signs promoting books and movies you liked as a child that help make the world a better place and open your mind to diversity.
- words or images of diversity, love, and support
- no hate language or profanity
We danced, sang and chanted children’s songs. More than a few rounds of Baby Shark and Boom Chicka Boom were heard amidst the hate rhetoric on the other side of the street.
Hugs warmed hearts and bodies as I walked around with my Hugmobsters Armed With Love sign. My friend Rhian Lockard was a colorful and vocal presence as well.
I’m grateful that it was peaceful. I had a conversation with one of the protestors who really believed they were acting out of love. They don’t see that what they are expressing is hate rhetoric. The man told me that his sister is an out Lesbian who is married to a woman. He says he loves them and referenced “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” I wonder how you can love someone and hate who they are at their core. I then told him the origin of the word ‘sin’ is Hebrew and it means to miss the mark like in archery. It is about do-overs. I reminded him that he could change his mind at any time. He asked me if I knew Jesus. I told him that the Jesus I know wouldn’t be carrying the kind of signs his compatriots were and wouldn’t be shouting the things they were. I then asked if he had ever been to the Mummer’s Parade where until maybe 30 years ago, those who marched were men, some dressed as women. I asked if he had ever been to a Shakespeare play since all of the actors were men, even the female characters. “That was a different time,” according to this man. He then went on to say that what Miss Annie was doing was attempting to indoctrinate. I asked, toward what? Had he actually been in the library and hear what she had to say? No, but he had heard what it was about. We parted peacefully, wishing each other well.
When I consider the reaction of the protestors, I recall that there were no beatific smiles, there was no softness expressed as you would imagine there would be if someone was immersed in the love of God. Instead, there was glaring, posturing, yelling, bullhorn raging, signs bearing words of hatred, hellfire, and brimstone. Not representative of the God I know. I can feel compassion for them since it must be so dark and scary in their minds for them to be expressing what they truly believe is the love and the word of the God of their understanding.
A little while later, I did go in and watched as a group of kiddos and their parents listened with rapt attention. Miss Annie was decked out in a red dress with black polka dots, sporting multiple tattoos, big hair, a bunch of tastefully large bling and walking confidently on platform heeled black boots. One little girl, when asked what a drag queen was, said it was a man or woman who dressed up in costumes with wigs and makeup. Simple as that.
Miss Annie was viewed by the children as a superstar at whom they gazed adoringly. A friend had designed an outline drawing of her that they each got to color in. Some offered her their brightly hued works of art for her to take home.
I had the joy of interviewing Miss Annie afterward.
How was your persona of Annie Christ born?
Annie was born about four years ago. I had started doing drag and wasn’t creative enough to come up with my own name so a fellow drag queen said they’d help me out and he came up with Annie Christ. Since then he’s been a mentor to me and has helped me evolve as an artist.
Have you been an actor for a long time?
Well, I started drag about four years ago. I fell into a routine of how drag queens perform and dress. I wasn’t exactly fulfilled with it so I took three years off. When I came back to drag I decided I was gonna do drag my own way. How I dress, do makeup, perform etc.
What prompted the idea to combine that aspect of yourself with storytelling for children?
I saw a TED Talk about the psychology of success and at the end, the presenter said, “Be the person you needed as a child”. That’s really what started it all. If I had something tell me as a kid it’s okay to be different and things will be okay my life would have been a lot easier.
Were there childhood experiences that had you facing bullying and discrimination?
I grew up with David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Freddie Mercury, etc. It was instilled in me as a child it’s okay to dress how you want to dress and be who you are as long as you’re a good person and love with all your heart. So being a kid who was raised like that, I was definitely looked at as a weirdo. It’s okay though, it made me the person I am today. It forced me to realize that people who don’t like me for how I look don’t hate me. They just don’t understand and don’t want to take the time to. In the end, they’re doing themselves a disservice. It’s sad.
How do you respond when naysayers express their disapproval of what you did today?
Honestly, I didn’t respond. The event wasn’t about them. It wasn’t even about me. It was about the over 100 children that came to the library. I refused to make a big deal of the protesters. That’s just background noise in light of a really great thing I wanted to accomplish.
I loved the response of the girl in the third group who described a drag queen as a man or woman who dresses up, wears wigs and lots of makeup, or words to that effect. Are you amazed and amused by their reactions to your events?
It’s a really great thing that kids these days are learning to love no matter what someone looks like on the outside. That’s why I’m doing this whole thing. If kids grow up loving and knowing they’re loved they’ll be aimed in a great direction for the future.
How long does it take you to get all dolled up and how do you balance on those heels? (asked by this low maintenance, toss on makeup in two minutes woman who says the closer I am to the ground, the better I feel).
I like to take my time. I put on music and kinda relax. If I have to rush before a show I never feel settled and I don’t want it to impact my performance. I like to take two hours. It gives me time to just enjoy it. If I have to though, I’ll be ready in an hour….maybe an hour fifteen.
What is your offstage life like?
Super boring, haha. I’m just a regular dude. I watch movies, play video games, hang out with my friends. There’s nothing fabulous about my personal life.
If you could sit with someone who protests your work with children, what would you want to say to them?
I wouldn’t say anything, I’d listen. They obviously have a lot of misunderstanding about what I do and why I do it.
What is the takeaway message from your story time?
Love ALWAYS wins!!! I also wanted to say how proud I am of Lansdale. Our community came together and showed we won’t be backed down with threats of violence and opposition. My heart is so full of love for these people. Because of all of them, we raised 1,600 lbs of food for Manna on Main Street, and we have a day to celebrate the inclusion of EVERYONE who loves and lets love! The mayor has announced 2/2 will be known as inclusion day. We will celebrate it every year with a party and a food drive! All races, religions, genders, orientations, all walks of life who have love in their heart deserve to be loved!!
The proclamation will be read at the March Lansdale Borough Council business meeting, scheduled for March 20 at 7 p.m. at Lansdale Borough Hall.
Tom Meyer is the director of the Lansdale Public Library and was a positive force behind the event. His words echoed with the sentiment of the community members who gathered to welcome the children who were delighted with the festivities.
How would you describe what took place today?
What is the mission of the library?
The mission of the Lansdale Public Library is to enrich our community through the encouragement of early literacy, the fostering of life-long learning, and the celebration of the cultural diversity in our area.
What made the library decide to host this event, knowing that there would be pushback from some members of the community?
You can’t please everyone. The Library Bill of Rights article VI.
What did you observe among the families who attended?
Joy and Love
How did you feel about what was happening outside the building?
I didn’t spend much time outside but it appeared to be good.
May we all celebrate diversity and love for the sake of the children and the world we will leave them.
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Photo credit: Miss Annie, used with permission.