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'All are welcome': Drag story time draws crowd in Elmvale

'Everybody had a smile on their face,' Springwater mayor says of event Friday

Paper rainbow hearts, balloons, and streamers adorned the Elmvale Community Centre on Friday afternoon as dozens of people came together to celebrate love, inclusiveness and diversity at Springwater Townships’s first-ever drag queen story time.

About 70 people registered for the event, confirmed Springwater Public Library’s CEO Jodie Player Delgado.

The event, which featured drag performers Fay Slift and Fluffy Soufflé, was the third story time in Simcoe County — with the duo making stops earlier in the day in Collingwood and Wasaga Beach.

While the earlier events reportedly saw a small number of people show up to protest, the Springwater event did not have any protesters. The location of the Springwater event was kept quiet until Thursday afternoon and was only provided to individuals who had registered.

Drag queen story time events in Orillia and Midland, as well as Springwater, have previously been met with vocal opposition, harassment, and threats to library staff.

A small crowd of supporters holding brightly coloured signs saying “Drag is Art”and “If you don’t like it just sashay away” were on the sidewalk outside of the community centre, cheering and waving at people as they drove by, honking their horns in support.

“It just goes to show that this was something that was actually wanted and needed in this community. I really wanted to make sure that we stood up for everybody in our community and to show that everybody was welcome, and this was one of the best ways to do that,” Player Delgado said, adding the hope is to continue to bring these types of events to Springwater.

Springwater Mayor Jennifer Coughlin and Coun. Matt Garwood attended the story time with their children and were overwhelmed with the amount of love they could feel inside the hall.

“It was incredibly empowering when (Fay and Fluffy) said, ‘All are welcome here,’ and to hear all those kids in their voices matching the voices of parents,” said Coughlin

“It’s been a long two months, but I am absolutely going to have an amazing (rest of the day) because it’s now just realizing that it’s OK. Everybody had a smile on their face.”

Garwood’s young daughter donned a T-shirt with the words “Kindness Matters,” a saying Garwood said he believes needs to be focused on more often.

“I know often we focus on the negativity on the side of any community event or activity, but we should be focusing on what matters, and it is events like today. It’s the moms and the dads and the parents, couples and kids that are here and come up to us and say how welcomed and safe they feel in their own community … and every resident should feel that way,” he said.

From a “dad perspective,” Garwood said he said he wants his children to grow up and know what they saw Friday afternoon is what love and kindness look like.

“Whether you are for something or against something, just be happy. That’s our mentality at home and that’s what I try to bring to the council table. At the end of the day, the message here should be that everyone is welcome in Springwater. I am loving that communities are taking this on,” he said.

Fay and Fluffy have been doing drag story times since June 2016. Seeing so many families and supporters come out was “incredible,” said Fluffy.

“I think that by places, libraries, community centres and towns hosting events like this, it’s just putting out the message that these are safe spaces where everybody is accepted and where diversity is celebrated and all families are celebrated,” Fluffy told BarrieToday following Friday’s event.

Their events focus on books, songs to make reading fun, and to support families with LGBTQIA+ parents and gender-variant children, and read culturally diverse books, by providing a supportive and inclusive environment focused on fun, states their website.

“Our message is let’s read books because they are amazing. We love literacy and let’s celebrate everybody and accept people for who they are,” added Fluffy.

Friends for more than 15 years, Fay and Fluffy have a goal to make spaces safe and inclusive for everyone.

“When communities invite us in, what they are doing is sending a message outwards that everyone is welcome here, valued and seen and that this is a safe space … and that is so vitally important," said Fay. “It’s about building community and we are huge community advocates. The hate stuff that happens, it happens. We grew up experiencing that … and I like to think that the person I have become is the person that I needed as a kid when I was alone and isolated.”

Fay and Fluffy love what they do, especially “making connections, celebrating joy and reading books” with kids and families.

“That’s our agenda. That’s it. There are no ulterior motives here,” said Fluffy.

Seeing the faces of the kids and adults in the crowds, added Fay, means dialogue has been created and there are families who unconditionally love and support their family in all shapes, forms and sizes.

“These are not our communities, but we have been welcomed in, and to see the support and the joy, it’s incredible,” said Fay. “It fills my heart up to know that communities are a lot stronger out there and that, unfortunately, the ones that are out there getting the platform with the negativity are also providing the platform for those who say, ‘No, we don’t support that and we don’t believe those hateful things that are being said and are supporting the diversity in the community.’”