Please Touch Museum CEO and president Patricia Wellenbach said she stands by her decision to hold the Drag Queen Storytime event at the museum’s inaugural Family Pride Festival June 9 and that membership numbers remain intact despite online backlash.
“The responses were overwhelmingly positive both during the event and online. We are not backing away from providing children a space to learn, explore and discover diverse communities,” Wellenbach told PGN after the event. “The museum lost no revenue and no one has cancelled their membership.”
The children’s museum celebrated Pride with the immersive and interactive day of play honoring LGBTQ families and communities around the world. Last week, the museum’s Facebook page was hit with negative comments from parents after the announcement of Drag Queen Storytime — a dress-up segment hosted by local drag queens.
Brittany Lynn and Miss Aurora hosted the storytime event over three sessions during the day, the first of which was the biggest and filled to capacity, with more than 120 parents and children, the CEO said.
On the museum’s Facebook page a debate emerged about what’s appropriate to introduce to young children. Comments from parents against the storytime included, “This is appalling! #SexualAbuse” and “Definitely very inappropriate to subject children of these ages to things like this.” Of the roughly 80 comments on the post, at least 70 were supportive.
One supporter thanked the museum for showing inclusivity through diversity. Another wrote, “Thank you for leading the way and providing children with the space to learn and explore all expressions of the human experience.”
Wellenbach said in the Philadelphia Inquirer that the museum wasn’t considering cancelling the Pride program.
“We held fast in our commitment to create a day that children and families would experience with joy and openness. More than 1,600 visitors participated in Pride,” Wellenbach wrote.
Danielle Defassio, the museum’s manager of studio and performing arts, organized most of the events for the festival and pushed for the inclusion of Drag Queen Storytime. Defassio said that the segment explored different faces of children’s creativity through dress-up.
“Drag Queen Storytime is a beautiful piece of performance and a way for children to see a uniqueness in difference without it being confusing or awkward or scary,” Defassio said. “It takes away the veil of a segment of the population that is oftentimes misrepresented, underrepresented or hidden by society. It shows a different type of performance. It shows children that anyone can dress in fun ways and be silly or serious or find a character that suits who they are.”
Adam Podowitz, a board member of Philadelphia Family Pride — an organization dedicated to building an inclusive community for LGBTQ+ families — said that the Please Touch Museum’s celebration of LGBTQ families helps interrupt the heteronormative family structure.
“There are moments when we feel like we’re the only queer family around. It’s important for us to see people who look like us in these places so that we can feel comfortable,” he said. “So much of the world is heteronormative and that’s the model of family that is so frequent. Events like Drag Queen Storytime show a structure that’s not the norm and that’s is important for us to show our children.”
Brittany Lynn and Miss Aurora host an ongoing Drag Queen Storytime with the Free Library of Philadelphia in branches across the city and at Lume Creative Learning Studios. Brittany Lynn said that the story times are integral to introducing children to a diversity of lifestyles.
“Growing up, I wasn’t introduced to other walks of life. Any of those kids in the audience could be gay or questioning or could want another type of lifestyle that isn’t mainstream,” she said.
“We want those children to know that there are other people like them so that they don’t feel alone.”