The Student News Site of Brookdale Community College

The Current

The Student News Site of Brookdale Community College

The Current

The Student News Site of Brookdale Community College

The Current

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Drag Queen Story Hour Cancellation Sparks Controversy


Drag Story Hour was scheduled to be part of Brookdale’s Bring Your Child to Work Day celebration April 25. Jersey City resident Harmonica Sunbeam (who prefers to use her stage name) was scheduled to perform and read to the children faculty and staff brought to campus, as well as the employees who attended.

Sunbeam, a drag queen, has performed in nightclubs and cabarets throughout the United States for over 27 years. Her website says Drag Story Hour’s success relies on Sunbeam’s “unique ability to uplift, encourage and engage children.”

However, objections were raised, and the event was canceled. President David Stout told staff that the first objections received came from within the college community.

“As an inclusive community, we understand the diverse viewpoints within our workforce and opted to respect the comfort levels of all involved,” reads the college’s official statement.

Brookdale’s Bring Your Child to Work Day featured a packed schedule of dozens of activities for faculty and staff members and their children, including painting, campus tours, a garden tour and a leadership workshop.

“As the president of the college, it’s my responsibility to make difficult decisions, and I will always make such decisions in the best interest of the entire institution,” Stout said.

Many staff members and some students complained that the cancellation ran contrary to Brookdale’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

However, the college administration pointed out that the Theater Club proceeded with their scheduled Drag Show event with no restrictions or issues on April 26.

“The inclusion the next day of a drag show event underscores Brookdale’s commitment to diversity and inclusion education and learning opportunities for our students and adult community members,” reads the college’s official statement.

Dr. Michael Broek, president of the Brookdale Community College Faculty Association, presented a letter of disapproval to Dr. Stout and the Board of Trustees. Signed by 98 faculty members, the letter addresses the controversy:

“The Brookdale Community College Faculty Association met on April 25 and an overwhelming majority of the faculty in attendance voted to register our strong disapproval of the decision to cancel Drag Queen Story Hour as such a decision violates the core values of Brookdale Community College. There are non-gender conforming individuals on campus and in the community who will rightly feel that this action signals that they are excluded and disrespected.”

The topic of the cancellation was also discussed at a Governance meeting on April 30. Governance is the vehicle for all members of the Brookdale community to influence the college’s future through ongoing dialogue and formal recommendations.

Eight staff and faculty members spoke of their fears that this cancellation will ultimately lead to more restrictions of marginalized communities. One speaker compared the event’s cancellation to the Holocaust. She added, “This is how it begins.”

Among those in attendance at the Governance meeting was Jessica LaCalamito, 26, photography and journalism major from Jackson.

“If I had any speculation on why this event was canceled, I would say it’s because drag queens traditionally are known for adult burlesque-type shows and over-sexualized entertainment. I am a member of the LGBTQ+ community, but I don’t see this as an attack on the community. I think it’s people in power thinking they are protecting kids. While I do not know if the said drag queen would dress in sexualized clothing or even act sexual in front of kids, this I seriously doubt. I think it’s the stigma around drag queens that got this event canceled. Now whether they should be exposed to kids in a story time situation, that’s up for the parent to decide,” LaCalamito said.
“Another reason why they might have canceled the event might be because they do not want kids learning about trans people at an early age, but again it is up to the parent to decide what they teach their children about,” she said.

Stout sees the controversy as an opportunity for the Brookdale community to learn and grow:

“At Brookdale, we are committed to fostering a sense of belongingness for all students and employees,” he said. “As a result of this event, we have encountered a significant learning opportunity for our college community. To genuinely embody our values, we must engage in open, sometimes difficult conversations about diversity. In the coming months, we will examine how all employees can feel included in our diversity efforts and identify opportunities for professional growth within our institution.”

An opportunity for students and faculty to meet and discuss the cancellation of the Drag Story Hour was provided on Thursday, May 2, at the Caroline Huber Wellness Center on the Lincroft campus. Labeled as “Snack and Unpack”, 16 people, including staff, explored what the cancellation meant to them. Several faculty members shared the trauma of being bullied earlier in their lives and the trauma of coming out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. This cancellation triggered those past memories, creating a painful experience.

“As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I was very much disappointed that Brookdale, as a school that stresses ‘no stigma’ and ‘equality’ turned its back on its students,” said Alex Mock, 22, an education major from Hazlet. “The only way to move forward is to engage in a conversation as to why and how this happened.”

Further dialog with school officials will hopefully create safeguards to ensure communications are handled more effectively in the future. The charge of holding a space for those with different perspectives is a challenging one. Students and faculty need an environment where diverse ideas can be shared and respected. Plans include ongoing training initiatives to promote understanding and empathy among the staff and students as Brookdale builds a community where everyone feels valued, respected and supported.

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