On September 10, Francisco Soto and Xaime Aceves Equihua (stage names “Barbie-Q” and “Raquelita”) presented Drag Queen Story Time to a reported 300 adults and children at the Civic Center Chula Vista Public Library on F Street.
Dressed in drag, they were introduced to the children as “performers.” Illustrations were displayed on a screen as Soto and Aceves read "Julian is a Mermaid," a story about a young boy who decides to take on a female persona. They also read "It’s Ok To Be Different." At the end Aceves lip-synched “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid as the Disney cartoon video played on the screen. Soto lip-synched “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana. One parent reported, “It was wonderful.”
Outside the library about 80 people, mostly from local churches, gathered to protest what they see as a convergence of children’s literacy with adult entertainment. A few protesters reported the library event to Child Welfare Services, saying it’s child abuse to introduce children to adult entertainment. The agency disagreed.
Tony Villafranca, chairman of the San Diego chapter of pro-family group MassResistance, said, “A small portion of our community is adversely affecting children here in a larger-than-life way.” He asked, “Why would a man want to dress as a woman when he reads to children?” He says they are trying to confuse children about gender identity.
About 120 counter-protesters arrived to support the library’s event. Chula Vista mayor Mary Salas and city councilman Steve Padilla were among them. Padilla said the protestors are perpetuating “false and discriminatory narratives targeting the LGBTQ+ community in the name of protecting children.” And he accused Mass Resistance of being a “hate group” that promotes white supremacy.
Villafranca is Filipino-American. MassResistance’s national director Brian Camenker says he attends an Orthodox Jewish synagogue. He denies promoting white supremacy and says he would never promote violence or harm against any person. He says he might sue Padilla for defamation.
This year, MassResistance activists in Texas have exposed three sex offenders reading to children at drag queen story hours. For instance, in March, library authorities in Houston apologized after Mass Resistance showed that they had let 32-year-old registered child sex offender Alberto Garza to read to children. Locals from Chula Vista did not find that to be the case with Soto or Aceves, who are a gay couple and both reportedly work with kids. But they found the two men call themselves “The Hottest Exxxotics” in “DL Bros,” a music video they produced about gay bar hookups. As the group name suggests, their songs contain sexually explicit lyrics, including, “Don’t go chasing DL bros. Just stick to the queers and the twinks that you’re used to. I know you’ll use your dildo or just your palm. If you’re lucky put your fist up his a--.”
They posted the video to their YouTube channel “Queer Novela” six months ago. The Cambridge Dictionary defines “twink” as a “gay man who is young, slim and looks like a boy.” Posted definitions on urbandictionary.com place twinks anywhere from 14 to 25 years old. The narrowest definition is 18-22 year olds. Neither Soto nor Aceves responded to offer their definition. Five months ago they posted a video on YouTube with a scene from a strip club that shows nudity. Mayor Salas did not respond to a question about whether people who publicly post such content are appropriate public library storytellers for children.
Illustrations from "Julian is a Mermaid" that were shown to children at the library included multiple pages of Julian undressing to his underwear; before he turns into a mermaid, again when he takes a bath, and before he finds a sheet to wrap around his waist. (In the most-liked comment about the book on goodreads.com, Carol said it “makes me uncomfortable... every time you turn around Julian is stripping down to his skivvies and putting on makeup.”)
To get a better gauge of how every-day Chula Vistans feel about Drag Queen Story Time I went to the Civic Center library September 7, when no protests were happening. I ran into Chula Vista Elementary School Board candidate Ruben Serrano, who was passing out flyers about the story hour and asking people what they thought. I listened to people respond, and three quarters expressed objections to the event. Others responded that they didn’t care or that people can do whatever they want.
I went to the South Chula Vista Library Branch on Orange Avenue where I met Amara Suyematsu, a regular library patron who was given a MassResistance flyer a few weeks prior. She says she was skeptical at first but after researching the drag queen event she joined the resistance. The number of San Diego locals signing up with MassResistance grew steadily in the days leading up to the event, the group says, and and newly formed San Diego chapter gathered for a meeting.
Suyematsu says, “I was gay. I love my gay and trans friends. I have no hatred toward LGBT people, but children should not be educated with their ideology. I believe it’s taking away their innocence and corrupting their minds.”
Regarding drag queens reading to children, “Even my trans friends would never go out looking like that.... The drag queen story hour is purposefully trying to either terrify or desensitize children.” In response to Padilla’s white supremacy accusations against MassResistance, she says, “I’m half Mexican and half Japanese.”
Josie Ming is another local who wants Padilla to know she is a Hispanic woman married to an Asian man and is very acquainted with the LGBT community. “I used to go to drag shows all the time. All my friends were drag queens. If parents knew the lifestyles of drag queens they would not bring their children to hear them read.”
Lifelong Chula Vista resident Martha Souza says she knows from her childhood how predators groom children and says drag queen story time is an act of grooming. “We don’t want it here in Chula Vista. Why don’t they take it to Coronado or La Jolla? It’s because they are targeting minority and immigrant communities. They think we are easier to take advantage of.”
Then she tells me I should talk to Eddie Rios. “He’s the man in Chula Vista a lot of people know.” She points to a man with a steel-piercing gaze and “Chula Vista” tattooed in Old English script across his chest. Rios says Padilla’s name-calling is a last act of desperation. “We’re not staying quiet any more, and they know they are going to lose in the end.” He says the story time is part of an agenda to “break kids at younger ages.”
San Diego Pride co-sponsored Drag Queen Story Time and published a letter supporting the event claiming it was signed by 70 faith leaders across San Diego County. But a perusal of the names published shows one is from the University of Chicago and several are repeats from the same church. Only two of the churches are from Chula Vista, and a significant majority are located within a short radius of Hillcrest. Point Loma’s the Rock Church was on the list, but a church spokesperson says the person who signed it is not on staff and does not represent The Rock, which she says is neutral on the matter.
Several churches in Chula Vista were represented among the protesters, including South Bay Pentecostal Church. A few days before the library event, satanic graffiti was sprayed on all four corners of the church at D and 4th in the early morning hours before church services were held on Sunday. Chula Vista Police are investigating.
Chula Vista Councilmembers Jill Galvez, Mike Diaz, and John McCann did not respond to support or oppose the drag event. A city council meeting was held immediately after the event and public comment was dominated by criticism of city leadership for not canceling the event, though a few people spoke to support their decision.
Local resident John Moore criticized city leadership for “allowing grown men to disguise themselves as women and use fake names to get access to children at the library.” (Neither the drag queens nor the library would make their real names public, and most media reported them only by their stage names.)
Paula Martinez-Montes said, “I was one of 300 people at the [drag queen story time] with my husband and two kids. We are a Christian family and believe our children should accept themselves as they are...We strongly believe in love and love being first.”
Lizzie Lechner said, “I speak to you as a victim of sexual abuse, abuse that came not from a drag queen or a gay man, but from a straight Christian married man. As I struggled through the healing process from the abuse that was inflicted upon me it was a gay man who treated me like his own daughter and helped me through.”
Alexandra Motz said, “I have been a member of the Chula Vista Hispanic community since my parents immigrated from Mexico. I have a Masters in Social Work and am trained in the County of San Diego as a Child Protective Services worker. Adult entertainers are not age-appropriate for children... Historically, adults dressed in drag do so to heighten their sexual pleasure. This is a highly sexualized arena….”
Mayor Salas told the packed-out board room: “The most sexual thing that happened in story time is when they showed The Little Mermaid.”