Drag takes centre stage at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Dressing in drag is a chameleon art form, said Zachary Rushing, a Winnipeg-based musician who will be performing in drag as Lady Muse when the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) kicks off Pride Week on May 26.

Drag is a form of self expression — a way to live life to its fullest without having any shame, Rushing said, adding it’s also a protest and a celebration of community.

And that’s why Rushing is pleased that CMHR is holding Rainbow Tales, readings in celebration of Pride, this Saturday. The storytime for all ages will feature readings by drag queens Feather Talia, Honey Dillia and Kymera.

“To do something like this, not at a library where books are normally kept, but at a place like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, is really important in affirming sort of gender non-conforming, gender diverse people, and saying to them, that: ‘Your human rights are like the rest of ours, collective human rights,'” Rushing said. 

Dressing up for storytime 

Rushing compared events like drag storytimes to someone dressed up as Cinderella going to a birthday party and reading books to kids. However, they know it’s not always that simple to explain it to everyone. 

“At the end of the day, getting someone to open their mind and come to a drag show and have that experience is nearly impossible, because people who are hateful, want to be hateful,” said Rushing. 

Saturday’s event comes at the end of a week where people in Brandon, Man., rallied on Wednesday, in reaction to a delegation in front of the Brandon School Division board of trustees calling for the removal of LGBTQ, sexual education resources and other books in school libraries.

And in Winnipeg, a Pride flag was stolen from Riverbend Community School during the weekend of May 13. 

Encouraging critical thought and curiosity

Riva Harrison, CMHR’s vice president of external relations and community engagement, said the incidents highlight the importance of events like the drag storytime.

“These types of incidents always tell me that it’s more important than ever to have what can be difficult conversations, and that it’s OK to have those conversations,” Harrison told CBC Information Radio, on Thursday. 

“At the heart of reading and learning and loving books, is actually developing that critical thought, curiosity, engagement with new and sometimes challenging concepts.”

Ashley Smith, the director of advocacy at Rainbow Resource Centre in Winnipeg, added that political leaders in the province need to realize members of 2SLGBTQ (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) communities in Manitoba are impacted by what goes on in the U.S., where gender-affirming policies have come under attack.

“It’s up to our leaders to enforce the freedoms that we have and to protect us,” said Smith. “And it means making bold statements and that needs to happen.” 

CMHR will be holding Rainbow Tales Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Next weekend, Lady Muse and the Inspirations will perform on May 26 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and a Pride brunch will be held on May 27 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the museum.

The pathway to a greater acceptance of drag begins with understanding, Rushing said. 

“We’re real human people in costumes. That’s the end of it,” said Rushing. “All of us are here … in general, to celebrate community in some way.”