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Literary-themed drag shows in St. Petersburg strike chord over recent LGBTQ issues

An organization that fights book banning said recent news made it feel “more urgent” to host a family-friendly drag story time and a Harry Potter cabaret for adults.
Drag queen story times, like this one from 2019 with Viktoria Sommers reading a Dr. Seuss book at Community Cafe in St. Petersburg, are the kind of events that link literature with the trans community. Wordier Than Thou plans another family friendly drag story time on May 1.
Drag queen story times, like this one from 2019 with Viktoria Sommers reading a Dr. Seuss book at Community Cafe in St. Petersburg, are the kind of events that link literature with the trans community. Wordier Than Thou plans another family friendly drag story time on May 1. [ ALLIE GOULDING | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Apr. 27

For Wordier Than Thou, a St. Petersburg-based literary arts organization, recent events in the news are resonating as they prepare to host two literary-themed drag shows.

A hot topic in the Florida Legislature was the measure that was dubbed the “don’t say gay” bill by opponents and the “parental rights in education” bill by Republican backers. It has sparked concerns that books that feature LGBTQ characters will be banned or challenged.

Author J.K. Rowling has been criticized recently for her comments on transgender rights, which first came to light in June 2020, when she called out an opinion piece for using the term “people who menstruate” instead of “women.” The Harry Potter author also wrote a 3,500-word essay, asserting that some transgender rights laws threaten the women’s rights movement.

Drag performer Stephanie Stuart reads to kids for Drag Queen Story Time at the Pinellas Park Art Village in 2018 hosted by the literary arts group Wordier Than Thou. The group plans to hold another one May 1 in St. Petersburg.
Drag performer Stephanie Stuart reads to kids for Drag Queen Story Time at the Pinellas Park Art Village in 2018 hosted by the literary arts group Wordier Than Thou. The group plans to hold another one May 1 in St. Petersburg. [ Wordier Than Thou ]

In St. Petersburg, there will be a free family-friendly show on May 1 on the patio of Punky’s Bar & Grill to “celebrate diversity in children’s literature,” featuring drag performers doing story times and local authors who have LBGTQ characters in their work. Then for adults, a party called Welcome to Dragwarts will be held on May 5 at the shuffleboard courts at 559 Mirror Lake Drive in St. Petersburg. The cabaret show will feature drag, burlesque and other performers “taking the stage to celebrate the world of Harry Potter.”

Related: Drag queen story hour draws protestors in St. Petersburg

Wordier Than Thou hosted events like this before the pandemic and planned to revive them as gatherings returned. Then the recent news made their coming events “accidentally more urgent,” said Tiffany Razzano, founder and president of Wordier Than Thou.

The group had long discussions and decided to come down on the side of embracing all literature, she said. No doubt the “don’t say gay” bill will come up, though not for the kids to process, Razzano said. And performers at the cabaret show will likely have something to say about Rowling’s many comments.

“It’s not about imposing anything on any child, it’s about costumes and books and fun and art and realizing there are other people out there in the world,” Razzano said. “It is really about introducing stories to kids in new ways, and showing them there are a lot of different modes of self-expression.”

She said the drag story time had already been planned, but “it took a different turn” when the bill moved through the state legislature and became the butt of many a late-night comic’s jokes.

Drag performer Stephanie Stuart was dressed as a witch and representing Harry Potter books during the Banned Books Are a Drag event at a St. Pete Shuffle gathering in 2019. It was presented by the literary arts organization Wordier Than Thou.
Drag performer Stephanie Stuart was dressed as a witch and representing Harry Potter books during the Banned Books Are a Drag event at a St. Pete Shuffle gathering in 2019. It was presented by the literary arts organization Wordier Than Thou. [ Wordier Than Thou ]
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“Books should reflect the actual community you are living in,” Razzano said. One of the local authors who will be at the event is Ashley Rhodes-Courter, whose children’s book Sam Is My Sister tells the story of her three children, one of whom is transgender.

The adult event on May 5 is another one the group has done before, using drag and burlesque performers to celebrate Harry Potter. Many of them had found comfort in the story of an outsider finding a place where he belonged.

Wordier Than Thou has long fought against banning books and undermining literature because of an author’s reputation. But they have also supported Drag Queen Story Time and LGBTQ authors who have seen their works challenged in schools.

“We finally came down on the side that this is a way to reclaim these stories. It accidentally turned into making a statement we are happy to make,” Razzano said. “Having drag performers playing around with gender and burlesque performers doing something risque is a way of kind of reclaiming that Harry Potter storyline for folks who don’t agree with the stuff (Rowling) has tweeted.”

If you go

Out of the Pages: The family-friendly event will have drag performers interpret classic children’s books through colorful costumes and music. Performers include Jay Miah, Stephanie Stuart, Georgia Moore and Skyla Luckey. The event also features local children’s authors Ashley Rhodes-Courter and Natalie Kennedy. Free. 1-2:30 p.m. May 1, Punky’s Bar and Grill, 3063 Central Ave., St. Petersburg.

Welcome to Dragwarts: This cabaret show for ages 18 and older features drag, burlesque and other performers taking the stage to celebrate the world of Harry Potter. Tickets are $20 at wordierthanthou.com and $25 at the door, 7-9 p.m.May 5 at the shuffleboard courts at 559 Mirror Lake Drive, St. Petersburg.

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