Saint John drag king has no plans to stop hosting kids’ events, despite online hate

Alex Saunders loves drag queening for kids and has no plans to stop, even after being the butt of online hate.

Saunders, a drag king from Saint John whose stage name is Justin Toodeep, has been a drag performer for 12 years.

They have also been dedicated volunteers with the YMCA and the Salvation Army, and have spent the past five years reading books and doing crafts with children at the public library with a story hour.

“Doing drag is all about giving back to your community,” they said.

Last week, however, Saunders experienced something he says he’s experienced before.

Alex Saunders, also known as Justin Toodeep, helped host a story hour with the Saint John Free Public Library on June 5th. This is a photo of the actual event. (Provided by Alex Saunders)

They received hate messages, some even threatening their lives, after Saint John People’s Party of Canada candidate Nicholas Pereira posted an article about a drag storytime event online.

Saunders participated in this event last weekend through the Saint John Free Public Library in Market Square.

Pereira linked news of the event to an unrelated image of a youngster tipping a burlesque dancer by putting money in his underwear, spreading false information about what time of the day is. dragster tale.

He has since deleted the post, but not before it reached hundreds, prompting strangers and people Saunders knows to attack them online.

“I didn’t let myself down too much,” Saunders said. “But it makes me feel very unsafe in my own community.”

No intention of stopping

Despite fearing for their personal safety, Saunders has no plans to step down from drag performances, including children’s events.

Community support has kept pace with the hate they’ve experienced, they said, and they plan to continue and perform at more Pride celebrations in Saint John in August.

“The outpouring of love from my own community and my supporters and allies has been unreal, absolutely unreal.”

The library said it held four drag events, meant to celebrate diversity during Pride Month, and people were “very supportive”.

“Activities like this are an integral part of a child’s development as they develop an understanding and respect for differences, while feeling free to explore identities,” head librarian Laura Corscadden said in an email. -mail.

“Programs like this have been successfully offered over the past few years at many other public libraries in other jurisdictions across North America.”

Saunders said he wants to participate in events for kids because kids don’t have a lot of queer role models.

“They see me there, being my weirdo self and living my best life. And, you know, they fall in love with it,” Saunders said.

Saunders said that because they have a charisma that children are drawn to, the least they can do for the community is read to children and show them that there are different kinds of people in the world.

“People need to know they’re not alone. And that’s what I love about story time. Besides, it’s cool to read stories to children, make them happy and to give them cookies?”

What happens at story time?

Blair Richardson and his family moved from Toronto to New Brunswick a year and a half ago.

Richardson, who has a young daughter nicknamed Mouse, said her family has always been connected to Toronto’s queer community, going to events like story time and drag brunches.

“I think a lot of young people not only need to hear it if they’re part of this community, or eventually will be, but also the kids who will come out as straight,” said Richardson, a supporter of the drag storytime series. in Saint John.

“It’s important that they hear the consistency of the stories that are presented here, the inclusion, the messages of love.”

Although she noticed a difference in the number of gay-friendly places in Saint John – there are no gay bars, for example – she said that attending events like story time of dragsters had helped his family find friends when they didn’t know anyone in town.

She’s even worked with the library to expand storytime events beyond Pride Week in August.

Richardson said drag storytime events themselves are always full of color and costume — all outfits are appropriate for kids, she added.

Her daughter also loves books and reading.

“It really combines a lot of the passions that a five-year-old should have, which are, you know, performing and entertainment and literacy.”

Blair Richardson’s daughter Mouse plans to try dating for the first time this summer – using the name ‘Mouse-spot’. (Provided by Blair Richardson)

The stories that drag kings and drag queens read to children usually focus on themes of acceptance and being yourself – Richardson pointed to a recent story by Michael Hall called Red: the story of a pencil about a blue crayon inside a red wrapper that goes on a journey to find its true colors.

In addition to reading stories, children can make crafts and have a snack at story time.

“It’s just a really nice event that kids can take part in,” Richardson said.

Her daughter, who looks forward to flirting with story time “more than anything else in life,” is even trying flirting for the first time later this summer.

“Mouse just wants to be like Alex, in all aspects of life, and really admires them.”

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