A drag queen in a redhaired wig and a rainbow dress, with lots of bright silver jewelry, reads from a children's story book in front of a rainbow backdrop covering a shop window.
Topher Covarrubio

West Texas Town Comes Out for Drag Queens

Despite the presence of anti-LGBTQ+ protesters, over 150 people attended the first story time event in Wolfforth, a small suburb of Lubbock.

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On a recent Sunday morning, Destiny Adams arrived to work at Tumbleweed + Sage Coffeehouse at the crack of dawn. In a few hours, Adams would be hosting a Pride event featuring the first-ever drag queen story time in her small, conservative town of Wolfforth, a suburb of Lubbock with a population under 6,000.

As she prepared food in the kitchen all morning, thoughts of doubt crept into her mind. Is this a mistake? Is she doing the right thing for her community? Are the risks worth it?

To her complete surprise, she walked out from behind the kitchen to discover about a dozen people already waiting outside with over an hour to go before opening.

“My heart just burst with joy because I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, here we are in the middle of nowhere where our coffee shop sits between two dirt fields, and people are lined up in front of me to get something from my shop and to hear a drag queen read a story about inclusivity,’” Adams said. “This is my dream and my hope for this event.”

“It’s a safe space to be yourself regardless of who that is. I don’t understand why people want to smother that.”

Drag queen story times, which feature drag queens reading books to an intended audience of children, have spurred heated backlash from right-wing evangelicals in cities around Texas and elsewhere in the U.S. Recently, Republican state and national lawmakers announced their intent to introduce legislation banning minors from attending drag shows, including all-ages events like drag queen story times. However, parents, drag queens, and event organizers like Adams say drag queen story times are safe, entertaining, and educational experiences for children.

“It’s something fun,” said Sarah Deckard, who brought her 8-year-old daughter to the event at Tumbleweed + Sage. “They’re reading books, which is something that kids don’t do enough anyway. And it’s just providing an environment where kids can see, and anybody can see, it’s a safe space to be yourself regardless of who that is. I don’t understand why people want to smother that.”

Tumbleweed + Sage hosted the event with LubbockPRIDE, a nonprofit organization that produces the annual Lubbock PRIDE Festival. In addition to the drag queen story time, the event featured local vendors selling homemade tchotchkes, jewelry, and food, and a voter registration booth greeted guests as they entered the building. 

Miss Calvina, one of three drag queens featured at the Pride event, said this was the first time she performed at a story time. Having worked seven years as a private tutor for people who struggle to read and write, she saw this event as an opportunity to teach literacy in a different way.

Over a dozen young children, along with some adults, are gathered to watch drag queen Miss Calvina read from a story book. Calvina is wearing silver jewelry, a red wig, and a rainbow dress and cape.
Miss Calvina reads from ‘Twas the Night Before Pride by Joanna McClintick at Tumblweed + Sage Coffeehouse in Wolfforth, Texas on June 26th, 2022. Topher Covarrubio / The Texas Observer

“When you are a drag queen, you are an ambassador for the entire queer community,” said Miss Calvina, who read ‘Twas the Night Before Pride by Joanna McClintick at the event. “And to [represent the community in a way] that is family-friendly, that is accessible, that is wholesome, that shows kindness and inclusion of everyone of all age groups, of course, in a way that is approachable and safe in an environment that is secure … that is how you make progress.”

Adams, a former field director for the Democratic Party, opened Tumbleweed + Sage with her husband in June 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. She loved the offbeat coffee shops she frequented on the campaign trail and wanted the same kind of place when she came home to Wolfforth. Since there wasn’t one, she created one herself.

Located across the street from Frenship High School, Adams envisioned her coffee shop being an establishment where students who are still finding themselves could go and not feel judged. 

“If there’s someone getting bullied, they’re more than welcome to come in here. I’ll give them a drink for free. We can talk. I’ll call their parents if they want a ride. I will give them a ride if they need a ride somewhere,” Adams said. “Just having that safe space for our community is so, so important, especially for young people in a rural town.”

Victoria Hughes grew up in nearby Whiteface, and she suffered from depression and extreme self-loathing as a teenage lesbian living in a small town with little support. Now 32, Hughes works as an EMT, and she brought her two nieces, ages 5 and 10, to the drag queen story time.

“They’ve never seen a drag queen,” Hughes said. “I just wanted to show them that people are different and to celebrate that.”

As more people showed up to the event, customers began to line up out the door, and the coffee shop quickly became standing room only. Adams realized she had a capacity problem. With only 10 minutes until the start of the drag queen story time, Adams contacted the owner of Elotés, the neighboring Mexican restaurant co-sponsoring the event, and secured permission to use their space to handle the overflow. By the time the drag queen story time began, over 120 people crowded inside Tumbleweed + Sage and around 50 people watched from inside Elotés.

Outside the coffee shop, about a dozen protesters confronted 20 of the event’s supporters in the scorching heat, which might have been the first protest in the city of Wolfforth. During his 27 years on the force, Wolfforth Chief of Police Rick Scott said he cannot recall a protest of any kind in his city.

With a sign that read “It’s Never OK To Be Gay,” Steve Miller, pastor of the Temple Baptist Church in Lubbock, said he was there “proclaiming the truth of God’s word.” Miller had been a vocal critic of Tumbleweed + Sage in the weeks leading up to the event. He hosts a daily Bible-themed radio show called Unconfused on which he rails against drag queens and the LGBTQ+ community. 

At least one member of the community posted Adams’s personal cell phone number online and encouraged people to call her. Adams said she received up to 40 calls a day with people saying things like, “I’m praying for you. You’re going to hell. How dare you sexualize children.”

Children watch as a drag queen reads from a story book, wearing a deep red wig, gold sparkly dress and gold tights under white go-go boots.
Vanessa P. Nevaeh reads the Family Book by Todd Parr at Tumbleweed + Sage Coffeehouse in Wolfforth, Texas on June 26th, 2022. Topher Covarrubio / The Texas Observer

Miller protested outside the coffee shop with his son, Josiah Miller, who held a sign that featured a Bible quote on one side and a cartoon image of a snarling big bad wolf wearing lipstick and eyeshadow on the other.

The elder Miller explained that he has an older gay son who has been estranged from the family for over a decade, which explains his passion on the subject.

“If I can help parents not have to go through the same misery, or if I do this for 20 years, and one person repents and gets right with the lord, it’s worth it,” Miller said.

Leaders of the Lubbock County Democratic Party stood by the side of the road and held a large Pride flag in support of the event unfolding behind them. 

Adams had anticipated protests, so she hired two security guards and enlisted the help of an additional two volunteers to manage any potential danger. 

On June 6, 2022, Texas Republican Representative Bryan Slaton announced his intent to introduce a bill that would ban children from attending drag shows. Within a week, Republican U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted, “I’m introducing a bill to make it illegal for children to be exposed to Drag Queen performances.” Although Greene has yet to introduce any legislation, over 200 bills targeting LGBTQ+ people have already been introduced in 2022 nationwide.

“They’re scared of what they don’t understand, but they also don’t go out of their way to educate themselves on it either.”

“A drag queen’s a drag queen,” Slaton said. “If they want to dress up as the opposite gender in front of kids, that should not be permitted.” 

Since the next legislative session doesn’t convene until Jan. 10, 2023, Slaton has yet to submit any legislation. However, he told the Texas Observer he intends to propose several bills and is currently exploring different paths to enact his agenda.

Among the avenues under consideration, Slaton wants to require drag queens to register with the state of Texas for a license to perform. A similar law already exists for employees of sexually oriented businesses.

“We don’t let strippers dance in front of children,” Slaton said. “The drag queens started doing the story hour, now it’s moved into this, and we need to protect kids. And we need to stop this. They want to do their thing, do it. But not in front of children.”

Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, a conservative nonprofit that opposes same-sex marriage, abortion, and LGBTQ+ rights in Texas, said his organization approves of Slaton’s plans.  

“I would expect this piece of legislation and effort is going to get 100 percent support from the legislature,” Saenz said.

Deckard rejected the idea that drag queen story times are sexually-charged or inappropriate for children. “They’re scared of what they don’t understand, but they also don’t go out of their way to educate themselves on it either,” Deckard said of lawmakers wanting to pass legislation prohibiting children from drag queen story times. “I feel like if more people who weren’t sure of it, or felt uncomfortable by it, would just come to one and see what was happening, they’d realize it’s not some big threat or some big deal. It’s just people reading stories to kids.”

Donabela Kanela and Vanessa P. Nevaeh, the other featured drag queens, saw their presence at the drag queen story time as a way to fight back against misconceptions about their community.

An adult holds a toddler as another young child in pink clothes speaks to the three drag queens outside the cafe'.
Left to right Calvina, Donabela and Vanessa meet and greet families after Drag Queen Story Time at Tumbleweed + Sage Coffeehouse on June 26th, 2022. Topher Covarrubio / The Texas Observer

“We’re really trying to, I guess in a way, canvass more people to not really, like, be on our side, but understand that we aren’t the enemy,” Kanela said. 

“We have to take a stance and show that there’s nothing wrong with being a drag queen,” added Nevaeh.

“This is a pluralistic nation. We don’t have to all think alike and be alike,” said Grace Rogers, an 83-year-old retired high school government teacher who keeps a copy of the Constitution in her purse. She attended the drag queen story hour to support Miss Calvina, who works as the choir director and organist at her Episcopal church in Lubbock. 

“Bigotry is inevitable. And you’ve got to learn how to roll with the punches,” said Miss Calvina. “We know that protesters exist. You come prepared with that mindset. You turn the other cheek like a good Christian.”

“The people that need it the most will always show up for you again and again because if you support them, they’ll support you.”

After the event ended and Adams finally closed up the shop, she was completely exhausted. But she was also extremely grateful.

“You could feel it in the room, the people that were there, it was just like love,” Adams said. “It was such a good positive vibe, and it was just a great atmosphere to be in. And that’s exactly what we wanted to build here.”

Since hosting the Pride event, Adams has been fielding inquiries from other LGBTQ+ organizations wanting to rent out her coffee shop for community meetings. It’s another sign that the locals consider the cafe an important refuge in their small community.

“We don’t mind getting a whole bunch of nasty calls because the love and support always outweighs that bad and always outweighs the negative,” Adams said. “Because the people that need it the most will always show up for you again and again because if you support them, they’ll support you. And I think we saw that 100 percent.”