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The truth behind drag story time -- and why it is important

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With increasing hate and harassment directed at drag performers in the last year, a Sudbury, Ont., drag queen is sharing their story to help foster understanding and acceptance.

WATCH: Garrett Carr explains the difference between biological sex, gender and sexuality. Sept. 13/23 (Chelsea Papineau/CTV Northern Ontario)

Garrett Carr has been involved in theatre for many years and said they were introduced to the art of drag while performing in the play 'Drag Queens on Trial' at Thorneloe University, which used to be part of Laurentian.

Since then, Carr has had three drag personas with the most recent being Stacy Woods, modelled after the character Elle Woods from the movie Legally Blonde.

This summer, Woods has travelled to Pride celebrations across the northeast.

Last weekend, she read books to children in a drag story time event at the Espanola Public Library as part of the small northeastern Ontario community's Pride celebrations.

WHY REPRESENTATION IS IMPORTANT

Many people may wonder why drag story time is important. One of the goals is to reach young people who are struggling with their gender identity and feel lost and alone.

The Suicide Prevention Resource Centre said lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are five times more likely to consider suicide and seven times more likely to attempt suicide compared to heterosexual youth.

A 2015 study found one in three transgender youth attempted suicide in the past year, the Mental Health Commission of Canada said on its website.

"Trans people are two times more likely to think about and attempt suicide than LGB people," a 2104 study found.

Discrimination, lack of family support and institutional prejudice are some factors that increase the risk of suicide for queer youth.

When it comes to reducing the risk, community and school support, self-awareness and acceptance, strong relationships with family and friends and seeing past traditional societal views can help.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING A DRAG STORY TIME?

During a drag story time, kids are either sitting on the floor, in chairs or standing.

Sudbury drag queen Stacy Woods reads to children at Espanola Public Library as part of a drag story time event during Pride. Sept. 9/23 (Supplied)

"Their parents are there because no one leaves young children unattended, that's just not a thing that happens," Carr said.

Sometimes the drag performer is introduced by someone before coming in to read the stories and sometimes, they introduce themselves.

Books are then read and photos taken.

"It was actually my first drag story time, personally. It was very exciting, it was really fun," Carr said.

"In the storytime itself, it went well. I read four books, three of them were provided by the Espanola library. And this one that I brought with me (Phoenix Gets Greater, by Marty Wilson-Trudeau with Phoenix Wilson) was written by my friend who's here in Sudbury."

WATCH: Garrett Carr describes the experience performing at their first drag story time at the Espanola library as Stacy Woods. Sept. 13/23 (Chelsea Papineau/CTV Northern Ontario)

Carr said all the books they read were about self-acceptance and accepting differences in others.

"There were a couple times that I almost teared up," they said.

"Because if I had had an event like a drag story time to go to when I was that young, I probably would have been in a much better place mentally growing up and I would have, it wouldn't have taken me so long to find myself and actually start liking myself."

Phoenix Gets Greater, one of the stories Woods read, is about an Indigenous youth who learns about being Two-Spirit in the Anishinaabe culture and the difference a loving and supportive family can make.

One of the books that was chosen by the library was Tale of the Shadow King by Daniel Haack, which is about the love between a married king and knight saving the world.

The kids seemed to really love the stories, Carr said, with all wanting to take pictures with the drag queen and some who had questions for her.

"One of the young, little girls just wanted to know what exactly a drag queen was and so I explained that I'm just a performer who likes to put on pretty makeup and fun outfits," they said.

"And no one was confused. People were just 'Oh, there's a pretty lady with a big purple cape.'"

When Carr is performing as a drag queen in front of children, they said, "I'm pretending to be a woman when I'm not. I'm not, you know, being sexual or, you know, telling kids to be gay."

Echoing what another popular drag queen has said in response to criticism about drag story time events, Carr said "'We don't want your kids to be gay, queer, trans whatever, we want the kids who are gay, queer or trans to find community and safety faster than we did growing up. And so by being a drag queen at story time and playing with gender and showing kids that different genders are OK, is the first step towards that."

POLICE, PROTESTORS OUTSIDE

"However, there were protestors outside," Carr said.

"There were about 15 of them, which was kind of funny to me, the number of them. Because when I was in Timmins for Timmins Pride, there was one man protesting the entire thing and Espanola had 15 people protesting one event."

On their way from Sudbury to the drag story time in Espanola -- which is about a 50-minute drive west on Highway 17 -- someone called Carr to let them know protestors were at the library.

"The police and the protestors were there before I got there," they said.

"I showed up in my makeup, but not in my outfit. But, as I was walking in, my friend that I was with overheard someone say 'Oh, that man is wearing makeup, does someone have a knife?'"

Carr said the threat of violence was a little stressful.

Ontario Provincial Police confirmed it had a few officers at the library for the story time last Saturday.

Protestors will often contact police in advance to let them know they are exercising their charter rights, OPP said.

"The OPP establishes and maintains open and transparent lines of communication with all stakeholders who may be affected, directly or indirectly, by protest events," OPP Const. Jessica Gilbertson told CTV News in an email.

The role of police at protests is to stand by and keep the peace and ensure the safety of all parties involved.

"The OPP respects the right of everyone to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The role of the OPP is to ensure public safety and to keep the peace," Gilbertson said.

There were no reports of threats of violence in connection with the Espanola drag story time, OPP said.

"Officers were on scene to help ensure the protest remained peaceful," Gilbertson said.

CTVNewNorthernOntario.ca has reached out to Espanola Public Library and has not yet received a response.

'I FIND IT EXTREMELY DIFFICULT'

Some members of the queer community distrust of the justice system.

This summer, Fierte Sudbury Pride cancelled its annual march downtown after complaints from Black Lives Matter Sudbury about police involvement.

"I find it extremely difficult," Carr said, who is part of the Sudbury Pride committee.

"I have some personal experience and I have friends who have very unfortunate and somewhat scary experience dealing with reporting things like harassment and hate."

They said they feel like previous complaints have not been taken seriously by police.

"I have reported things in the past and have gotten just like 'oh well, I'm sorry that happened' kind of thing," Carr said.

"And I want to believe that there are people in the community who are here to protect us, however, there's not really any evidence of that yet. No one's really proven that to me personally."

DOESN'T HURT ANYONE

"So the first thing that people need to understand is that sex, biological sex, and gender are two completely different things," Carr said.

"So I was born male, I have a male body … but my gender is non-binary."

However, when they are performing in drag, Stacy's gender is female.

"Drag is just a performance of gender. It's not necessarily making fun of one particular thing, it's making fun of itself, it's clown," Carr said, adding their clown training has helped their drag performance.

"Drag, it doesn't hurt anyone. If anything, drag performers are hurting themselves to look that great."

Wearing a corset for any length of time can be painful, they said.

Garrett Carr performs as drag queen Stacy Woods, who is based off the character Elle Woods from the movie Legally Blonde. (Supplied)

"No one wants to be sexual around children, nobody. We're not animals, we're not, we're not gross people," Carr said.

While they said they much prefer spending time with adults, showing children it is OK to be different and not what others in society think they should be is important.

STACY'S NEW TALK SHOW

Woods is hosting a new local community TV show called 'Queens and Conversation' that begins airing in October.

Stacy Woods, a Sudbury drag queen, hosts a new local TV show called Queens and Conversation which begins airing in October 2023. (Supplied)

"I used to have a radio show on CKLU called Queerly Beloved where me and my friend who hosted would discuss queer topics and things affecting the queer community," Carr said.

When that finished, their friend Amanda came up with the idea for the TV show.

"She kept hounding me for years and finally she was like 'You're doing it and you're doing it as Stacy,'" Carr said.

"So basically, it's just half-hour episodes of me talking to various members of the community."

Woods has already recorded casual conversations with Sudbury MPP Jamie West and Reverend Ryan Fea from St. Peter's United Church and will be interviewing Mayor Paul Lefebvre soon.

"And we just talk about things that they might be like 'experts' on or you know have conversations pertaining to, not just drag -- I just happen to be in drag -- but the queer community in general," Carr said.

"Things like allyship, the importance of Pride, the relationship between faith and queerness, or I had someone from Reseau Access Network on and we talked about the importance of physical and sexual health in the queer community."

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