It was Hillary Clinton who, in conceding the election to Donald Trump, said she aspired to “an America where a father can tell his daughter, ‘Yes, you can be anything you want to be, even president of the United States.' ”
Indeed, one measure of a society is the freedom it affords its young people to choose their own career path. Students at the Rocky Top Middle School in Thornton, Colo., were shown at a literacy and career event Friday just how many options they had. They could be a police officer, an architect, an athlete, a journalist, an emergency responder or a member of the clergy.
Or even a drag queen.
They could be like Jessica L’Whor, a dancer and performance artist who told students her name was Ms. Jessica because she didn’t think her last name was appropriate for a school setting, as she told KDVR, a Fox affiliate in Denver. She appeared at Rocky Top, “home of the Grizzlies,” on the invitation of a student, who is a relative of the drag queen, according to CBS Denver. Rather than performing her usual routine, however, she spoke about her job and its connection to literacy, which was the assignment given to each of the guests.
According to KDVR, she read a chapter from Horrible Harry, the children’s book series, and used the text to speak about bullying.
Jessica said the message resonated with students.
“I had a couple kids that were like, ‘I’m gay in school and I get bullied every week and I don’t know what to do, and just talking to you helped me realize that I can still be me and still be happy,' ” Jessica told the local news station. “I got messages being like: ‘Thank you so much for coming to my class. I was having a really horrible week and you made my day.’ "
But some parents weren’t as thrilled.
“This person is an adult entertainer and is talking to 12-year-old students about something that’s adult [in] nature,” Heather Rogers told KDVR. Another parent, Jen Payer, said she was “pretty appalled,” as well as “surprised.” She said parents should have been notified. On that point, the principal, Chelsea Behanna, agreed.
In a letter sent home to parents Monday, the principal apologized for not notifying families ahead of the event and apologized for “any stress this has caused you and your child.”
“Moving forward, a prominent step in planning for next year will be to share the guest list for all families prior to the event,” Behanna assured them. “Should you feel like any of the sessions are not appropriate for your child, you’ll be welcome to notify us and we’ll make alternate arrangements for your child during that time.”
Still, the school district this week defended the inclusion of a drag queen at the event, which promoted literacy across a variety of careers.
“The school’s focus is to have an event that is representative of the diverse backgrounds and careers in the community,” Joe Ferdani, a spokesman for Adams 12 Five Star Schools, told CBS Denver.
Jessica, meanwhile, seemed to relish the controversy, urging other schools to join the cause and embrace the perspective of drag performers. “Let’s get more schools on board!!!!” she wrote on Facebook.
The letter from the principal also revealed how school officials are dealing with delicate topics surrounding gender presentation and inclusion at a moment when the Trump administration is considering narrowly defining gender as biological, denying the basis of transgender identity. Jessica, in an appearance on “Daily Blast Live,” a news and entertainment program, said she existed “on this big spectrum from masculine to feminine” but was comfortable with the designation of “drag queen.”
“Jessica, the drag queen, began her guest session with an explanation of her career — as did all other guests,” the principal wrote. “She explained that she is a performer who, though a man, portrays a woman for her performances."
The letter also testified to the prominence of drag performance — which includes dance, lip-syncing and comedy — as “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” the Emmy-winning series, dominates pop culture and offers a glimpse into the personal lives of its celebrity contestants.
The performer, the letter explained, took her young audience through her own personal history. “She detailed her background in the performing arts throughout middle and high school, talked about her dream of being a teacher, then explained how she earned a business degree from Colorado State University,” the principal said.
On “Daily Blast Live,” Jessica said there was nothing about drag that was unsuitable for young people.
“It’s not common to see a lot of kids at drag events, but there are a lot of events that you’re privileged to have kids in the audience,” she said, citing shows on college campuses and saying that she once did a “drag queen bingo for an elementary school.” The reason most events disallow children, she said, is because they occur at venues that have liquor licenses and age requirements.
She said her response to parents who were outraged was, “Well, what if I was just an actress in a Broadway musical, and I decided to come in my costume for that musical?”
Her decision to drop her last name and modify her language when speaking to children, she suggested, was her end of the bargain with “schools trying to bring in diversity and allow for different conversations to happen.”
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