NEW BEDFORD — It was a large turnout in downtown New Bedford Saturday morning as the first ever Drag Queen Story Time came to the New Bedford Main Public Library.

Protesters gathered across the street in front of City Hall to speak out against the event, which features Anthony DeRose, a drag queen known as Jacqueline DiMera–“Rhode Island’s Drag Sweetheart"–reading stories to young children. The 45-minute event had to be moved from the children’s room to the main room upstairs due to the unexpectedly high turnout.

During the story time, DeRose took on the Jacqueline DiMera drag persona, dressed in a black dress with makeup and jewelry, introduced herself to the audience, and proceeded to read a children’s story to the young kids on the floor in front of her while parents observed from a collection of seats further back.

DiMera saw a collection of personal friends among those showing support for Drag Queen Story Time. One of DiMera’s friends, who wanted to be identified only as Allison, says DiMera is “an amazing person.”

"I’ve known her for a few years, she does great things for the community and we felt the need for us to come out here and support her with everything that’s been going on,” Allison said.

“I think it’s great. I think it’s great to have somebody out here. The kids don’t see this as hate, they see it as ‘oh, somebody is playing dress-up, let’s get to know them,’ they’re just going to read a story. I think it’s great for people to see that we’re not evil people.”

Before she began to read to the children, DiMera spoke about her work as a drag queen, mostly out of Providence, and why she feels acceptance of events like Drag Queen Story Time are important. She also says she respects the rights and views of the protesters outside of the library, while also making lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek jokes.

Tim Dunn/Townsquare Media.
Tim Dunn/Townsquare Media.

“It’s not like they’re saying “do this and do that,” they’re literally just reading a book saying ‘I want to give you attention, I want to spend time with you and I’m just showing you the love I have to show.’ It’s not like ‘you’re going to be me and you’re going to do this,’ it’s not like that at all. It’s very accepting of what the child wants and it’s just reading to everybody,” said John, another friend and supporter of DiMera.

“It’s just a way for her to express a different part of herself, because if you’ve met Jacqueline when she’s not Jacqueline, she’s very professional, she’s ran for politics before and has ran for City Council. Out of drag it’s like a total different side of her, this is her fun and care-free side that’s just a great show you get to see.”

New Bedford Public Library Youth Services Coordinator Bethany Coito says Drag Queen Story Time is “very similar” to how the library conducts its regularly scheduled local author story time events, where the guest selects a few books that can be based on a theme.

“Today’s theme is kindness. So, sometimes we’ll have a local author or community guest come in. We’ve had doctors come in, police officers, and now we’re having drag queens come in to do story time, and then afterwards we’ll do a family craft event in the preschool room,” said Coito.

“We don’t have a programming budget, so it is all based off of donations.”

Those who oppose the event lined across the street as it took place, singing religious hymns and sporting signs denouncing what they say is introducing children to the homosexual movement promoting a positive outlook on gender fluidity.

One sign held by protesters read, “Dear God: Let NOT the little children be perverted by Drag Queen story hours!” Another one read, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph – We Pray You Keep the Family Holy!”

Tim Dunn/Townsquare Media.
Tim Dunn/Townsquare Media.

Coito says the event is “part of June as Pride Month.”

“[We’ve been] celebrating the Pride Flag being flown at City Hall, we’ve been promoting the Stonewall Anniversary, and just having LGBTQ downtown more united,” Coito explained.

“We’re very positive in having this event. I am personally the co-chair of the for the LGBT Winter Film Series, we’ve been part of Pride Day at Buttonwood Park, we’ve been including our diverse collection that we have at the library and we want to be able to have programs for all in our community.”

A New Bedford police officer was on scene, presumably performing a security detail for the event outside and inside the library. It is unknown if a police detail was paid for by the City of New Bedford or privately by organizers of the event.

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