Through “The Learning Network,” its online classroom resource site, The New York Times has been offering lesson plans and content created for school classrooms since 1998.
The free resources include quizzes on geography and current events and a massive database of lesson plans built around Times articles on topics from endangered species to space travel to prison life.
Among such otherwise innocuous topics is a lesson plan on drag kids, such as “Desmond Is Amazing” Napoles, the “rising drag stars of America.”
“As recently as the 1970s, dressing as another gender could lead to arrest,” reads the introduction to the lesson plan. “Today, L.G.B.T.Q. people are losing their rights and face violence in the United States and around the world. In spite of this, young people are pushing back against the gender binary and expressing their identity with freedom through drag.”
“In this lesson, you will learn about the history of drag and about several preteen and teen drag queens,” the introduction continues. “Then we ask you to consider the ways you express your identity through art and culture.”
The lesson asks a few starter questions about what students may already know about drag, then moves along to a video explaining the history and etymology of drag by “Trixie Mattel.”
The lesson then directs students to read a Times article on drag kids from last September, one which mentioned Elizabeth Johnston, the Activist Mommy as an opponent of the modern phenomenon of “drag kids:”
An active subset of the internet sees kids in drag not as “the future of America,” as RuPaul has said of Desmond, but “socially accepted child abuse,” in the words of Elizabeth Johnston, a vlogger who “daily tackles the left on abortion, feminism, & gender insanity,” according to her social media bios.
Her network also helped call for the cancellation of several drag queen story hours at local libraries. Among their criticisms are that exposure to drag sexualizes children and leads to confusion around gender roles.
Nina West, a queen who appeared on “Drag Race” and who has often performed for kids, said that while drag is a form of gender protest, it is not inherently sexual. “Drag is the larger than life representation of a character,” she said.
After reading the article, students are asked a series of writing and discussion questions, including:
Why did the vlogger Elizabeth Johnston criticize drag and young people watching or participating in drag shows or story hours? How did Nina West, a queen who was on “Drag Race,” respond? What has her experience been leading drag queen story hours?
West, in the original article, said that “while drag is a form of gender protest, it is not inherently sexual” and is instead “the larger than life representation of a character.”
The lesson closes by inviting students to discuss if drag should continue to remain subversive or if its current trajectory into the mainstream is a good thing, and to complete a worksheet on their identity.
It’s incredibly telling that children subjected to this lesson plan are invited to make deductions as to the Activist Mommy’s motives for fighting the advance of drag queen children’s programs based on a partial quote and a paraphrase.
If the NYT were even remotely interested in offering students a balanced view of this controversial subject, they could have invited students to read just one of our many articles on the subject.
Our motive is simple: drag is the misogynistic equivalence of a blackface minstrel show, complete with hyper-sexualized themes, and its classic bending and blurring of biological gender—not just “gender roles”—is psychologically damaging to young, impressionable children. That’s the truth, and we will never stop fighting for it!
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