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Charlotte business welcomes drag queen to host children’s story time

A Charlotte business has welcomed drag queen Brandon James to host a children’s story time, after James said his request to read to children at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library was denied.

“Since the day I opened the store, it’s been open to everybody,” Blake Barnes, owner of The Common Market, told the Observer on Friday. “I think it’s ridiculous to be offended by it. To me, it’s just a drag queen who happens to be reading to children. If you’re offended by it, just don’t go. I’m not into gun shows. I don’t go to them. But they’re welcome to have all the guns they want.”

The Common Market location at 2007 Commonwealth Avenue in Plaza Midwood will host the reading by James at 10 a.m. on Aug. 12.

James, who used to live in Charlotte and still performs here, said he has received death threats on Facebook after appearing on a local TV station over his request for a Drag Queen Storytime at the library.

Reading to children while he’s dressed in drag promotes diversity, James told the Observer. “We are all different but normal,” he said. That’s what he hopes children will understand – and that as they grow older, they will be less likely to bully someone different than they are, he said.

James, who dresses as Princess Onya, said news of his request went viral the morning after he appeared on WCNC last week. Keep NC Safe and the NC Values Coalition flooded the internet with what he said was hate speech toward him.

“We say no @cmlibrary keep it out of the Queen City,” NC Values Coalition tweeted. “Storytime with a Drag Queen is not helping kids, it’s disturbing.”

“I am appalled,” Mecklenburg County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour posted on Keep NC Safe’s Facebook page in reaction to James’ request.

On Friday, commissioner Bill James tweeted: “Tell him no way! @cmlibrary perversity is not diversity.”

Similar Drag Queen Storytime events have been held in Atlanta, New York and Indiana, James said. The New York Times reported that the concept is thought to have begun in San Francisco in 2015.

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library replied to James in an email on Monday, “letting him know that we can’t invite him to lead a story time at this time, because those are led by library staff,” said Cordelia Anderson, the library’s director of marketing, communications and advocacy. “We have a very specific way that story times are delivered, following best practices in the library industry, and these are typically delivered by trained staff, following those practices.”

When James asked about having a Drag Queen Storytime, the library referred him to the “suggest a program” form on its website, as it does everyone with a program idea, Anderson said.

The library offers programs other than story times, Anderson said, and let James know that if he would like to be a presenter at a future program, he could apply to be part of the library’s next Presenter Showcase next January.

“Presenters discuss their program offering in detail, provide handouts, and meet staff,” Anderson said. “It is then up to the library staff to schedule the program with the presenter, following the library’s programming guidelines and budget.”

When The Common Market emailed him to offer space for a Drag Queen Storytime, “I literally cried because it really touched my heart, amidst all the hate I was getting,” James said Friday. “I’m so happy, and I can’t wait until August 12!”

James said he lived in Charlotte for five or six years before returning seven months ago to his native Pacolet in Spartanburg County, S.C. He visits the Queen City frequently, where he has lots of friends, he said. He is scheduled to perform this weekend in Charlotte.

He plans to release his first book this fall, a children’s novel titled “Auntie Bulli,” and hopes to teach kids to be more accepting with its message.

On Facebook, James posted that he’s received hundreds of messages “condemning me to hell and calling me mentally ill, a freak and anything else you can think of. I’ve also received 100’s of messages supporting me and praising me and calling me a hero and a role model for LGBT youth.

“Those are the only messages I care about!” he posted. “That is the reason I am doing this! to build a better future! a caring and kind future! kids are our only chance for a better future!” He ended his post: “I’m not giving up!”

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak

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