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Drag queen featured in Marco Rubio campaign ad accuses him of bigotry

Lil Miss Hot Mess accused the Florida senator of spreading bigotry while Hurricane Ian was making landfall in his state.
Lil Miss Hot Mess reads to children during the Feminist Press' presentation of Drag Queen Story Hour! at the Park Slope Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library in New York City on May 13, 2017.
Lil Miss Hot Mess reads to children during the Feminist Press' presentation of Drag Queen Story Hour! at the Park Slope Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library in New York City on May 13, 2017.Mary Altaffer / AP file

An Arizona drag queen said she has one question for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., after he featured her in a campaign ad: “Why are you so obsessed with me and Drag Story Hour?”

Lil Miss Hot Mess, a drag performer who lives in Arizona and performs in Los Angeles, said a friend messaged her on Sept. 28 telling her that they saw her in one of Rubio’s campaign ads while watching the Weather Channel in Florida.

“The radical left will destroy children if we don’t stop them,” Rubio says in the ad, which is also on Facebook. “They indoctrinate children, try to turn boys into girls.”

As Rubio is speaking, the ad shows a video of Lil Miss Hot Mess reading to children during a Drag Queen Story Hour — a national program started in 2015 in which drag performers read to kids to encourage reading and celebrate diversity, according to the program’s website.

Lil Miss Hot Mess, who asked to go by her stage name due to safety concerns, responded to Rubio’s ad in a video shared by GLAAD, an LGBTQ media advocacy group.

“We’re simply out here reading books to children, encouraging them to use their imagination to envision a more just and fabulous world,” Lil Miss Hot Mess said in the video. “You, on the other hand, are out here during a hurricane that is pummeling your state spreading hateful, homophobic and transphobic bigotry.”

She said Rubio could instead be addressing the impacts of climate change, gun violence in schools or the economy.  

“You can either stand up for those of us who deserve justice and rights in this country, or you can stand out of our way, because we are here to spread joy, justice and a more fabulous future,” she said.

She told NBC News that when she saw the ad, she was annoyed, angry and embarrassed for Rubio.

The day her friend messaged her about the ad was the day Hurricane Ian hit Florida’s coast. “It just seems so shocking that this was how he was prioritizing his campaign dollars and the kinds of messages that he was crafting,” the performer said. “It’s ridiculous to come after drag queens for simply reading books to kids.”

The death toll due to Hurricane Ian’s devastating effects in parts of Florida reached nearly 100 Monday.

This isn’t the first time that Rubio has criticized Lil Miss Hot Mess, she said. 

In May, a library on a U.S. Air Force base in Germany canceled a Drag Queen Story Hour event due to complaints, including a letter from Rubio.

In the letter, addressed to Frank Kendall, the secretary of the Air Force, Rubio described the story hour as a “politically divisive event” that would “place young children in close proximity with adults who are intentionally and explicitly sexualized.”

He then called out Lil Miss Hot Mess’ children’s book, “The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish.”

“The author of the book said they wrote it so that children could ‘experience the magic of drag and to get a little practice shaking their hips or shimmying their shoulders to know how [they] can feel fabulous inside of [their] own bodies,’” Rubio wrote. “As I hope you can agree, decisions over children and their bodies should be left to moms and dads serving our nation, not mediated through publicly funded propaganda on U.S. Air Force bases.”

Rubio’s letter parroted “dangerous rhetoric suggesting that drag queens sexualize children,” Lil Miss Hot Mess wrote in an op-ed for NBC News in June. In reality, she said, “drag activates creativity and play, expanding traditional ways of thinking.”

She referred to research that she published with Harper Keenan, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia. The two argue that Drag Queen Story Hour uses some of the most effective learning practices, because it invites a sense of wonder and curiosity and “encourages children to ask why things have always been done in certain ways.” 

Rubio’s ad and letter are examples of a growing trend in which Republican officials have labeled LGBTQ-inclusive events and drag performances as harmful to children. Some have even gone so far as to call them “grooming” — invoking a decades-old false trope about LGBTQ people.

The language has also escalated into physical threats. In June, which is LGBTQ Pride Month, at least three LGBTQ events were targeted by white nationalist groups. And last week, a group of armed protesters showed up outside of a Texas church to protest a drag bingo event.

Lil Miss Hot Mess said the attacks make her think twice about the work that Drag Queen Story Hour does, but she said she ultimately believes that she and the other performers are “opening up children’s imaginations and helping them be their best selves.”

“We’re not out here on the defensive,” she said. “We really are out here doing this because we believe that it’s right and because we believe that it does open up new possibilities for our world and for our future.”

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