A new program wants to create a space where young people can "defy rigid gender restrictions," according to the organizers behind Drag Queen Story Hour.
The program, which was organized by nonprofit queer literary arts organization Radar Productions and city libraries and bookstores, including San Francisco Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library, hopes to capture "the imagination and play of the gender fluidity in childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive and unabashedly queer role models," according to the website.
"The children react very positively," Barbara "Bix" Warden, librarian at the San Francisco Public Library (which has been hosting Drag Queen Story Hours at various branches since 2015) told NBC News. "They love the drag queens and want to have their picture taken with them. They adore the face-painting which we have had accompanying the readings at our programs."
For Kyle Casey Chu, also known as Panda Dulce, the project brought together both his personal and professional lives. As a former social worker, former second grade Spanish immersion teacher, and former Mr. Hyphen (2010), Chu read as Panda Dulce at the San Francisco Public Library after he heard that the program was looking for more drag queens of color who had experience working with youth.
"More than just exposing youth to different forms of beauty, performance, and experience, it dispels the stigma and stereotypes of predation and lechery that are so often and unfortunately projected onto LGBTQ youth workers," Chu told NBC News. "And it does so in such an innocent, playful, and positive way. It's a beautiful thing."
Chu also recounted stories about transgender children who reported feeling more confident about who they were and more open about how they wanted to dress after attending the story hour.
"Moments like these really demonstrate how earth-shatteringly crucial it is for youth to have models that exist beyond, or even in spite of, 'traditional' gender roles," said Chu. "Seeing yourself reflected in others can be so formative and grounding, especially as a child, when you're just starting to develop your sense of self in the world. It was amazing to be even just a small part of that."