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Acceptance and protests at Drag Queen Story Hour in Port Jefferson

The first event of its kind on Long Island drew a capacity 35 children and their parents to the Port Jefferson Free Library on Saturday. Protesters greeted participants outside the library.

Harmonica Sunbeam, a drag queen, left, reads to

Harmonica Sunbeam, a drag queen, left, reads to kids inside the Port Jefferson Free Library while outside protesters join hands in prayer in Port Jefferson on Saturday. Photo Credit: Michael Owens

When Amanda and Will Schleisner of Sound Beach heard that the Port Jefferson Free Library would host the first Drag Queen Story Hour on Long Island, they enthusiastically signed up their 2- and 6-year-old sons.

“I think it’s good for them to have exposure to all different types of people,” said Amanda Schleisner, 35, after Harmonica Sunbeam — wearing a black dress with yellow-gold sequins and big green rings — read picture books to 35 children and their parents Saturday afternoon. “We’re raising our kids to not be judgmental at all and to appreciate all people.”

The library usually caps story times at 20 children but demand was so strong that it expanded the maximum to 35, the most allowed in the room with their parents without violating fire codes, said library director Thomas Donlon. The library invited Drag Queen Story Hour — a nonprofit with chapters in more than 40 states, Canada and Sweden — at the request of a patron, he said.

The event, which featured classic children’s songs such as “The Wheels on the Bus” and crafts in addition to the readings, was geared toward ages 3 to 8.

Participants were greeted outside the library by more than 30 protesters carrying signs such as “Stop Promoting Gender Confusion” and “Stop Indoctrination.”

“These drag queens, an adult man dressed as a woman, gays, whatever they are, should have nothing to do with our kids,” said the Rev. Ruben Cruzate, senior pastor of One More for Jesus Church in Farmingville and a protest organizer. “A 3-year-old, a 4-year-old, an 8-year-old is too young. Their minds can be impressed and manipulated by people. They’re too young to be exposed to people who choose to live like that.”

Jan Williams, 65, of Nesconset, said the children “are being brainwashed to this lifestyle.”

“The fact that people went through protesters to come here and that they signed up for this, and that this filled up so quickly, says we made the right choice in having this program,” Donlon said.

Two of the three books Sunbeam read focused on acceptance of differences. “A Family is a Family is a Family” particularly resonated with Courtney Rehfeldt, 34, who shares custody of her 7- and 10-year old sons with her ex-husband.

The book presents all types of family arrangements, including kids who are being raised by a grandmother, a foster mom, two dads — and a mom and a dad who live separately.

“That was nice to have a book read to them where that’s OK,” said Rehfeldt of Port Jefferson.

Owain Morgan, 47, and his husband Shane Morgan, 42, of Hampton Bays, brought 2-year-old daughter Luna to the reading.

“We live in a society where she’ll be exposed to enough gender-conforming messages,” Owain Morgan said. “You don’t have to make an effort in our society to tell your daughter she can wear a princess dress. You do have to make an effort to tell your daughter it’s OK if she doesn’t want to.”

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