MONTPELIER – There were “queens,” but no drama at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library on Saturday. Not, that is, unless you count a uniformed police officer gamely posing for a photograph with a couple of colorful drag queens before he and his partner went on their way and Nikki Champagne and Emoji Nightmare sat down to read out loud.
They had a lot of listeners.
More than 130 people filled the Hayes Room — spilling out into the library’s corridor — for a story hour Carolyn Brennan, the co-director at Kellogg-Hubbard, said was never in danger of being canceled, despite rumors to the contrary.
“There has never been any credible local threat to this event,” Brennan said, even as the room was filling with folks who traveled from near and far to hear two Burlington drag queens read children’s books.
If you’re keeping score it’s Champagne and Nightmare, 1, “Mommy Activist,” 0.
Nikki Champagne is the stage name for Taylor Small, reading partner Emoji Nightmare is Justin Marsh, and “Mommy Activist” is the online persona of conservative Facebook personality Elizabeth Johnston.
Brennan said Johnston provoked an avalanche of angry phone calls — most from out of state — that quickly subsided in early-June.
Separate news accounts — one at the time and another last week — prompted others to weigh in on the opposite side of the issue.
“We have nothing but local support,” Brennan said, defending the library’s decision to host Drag Queen Story Hour for the second straight year.
“The library is the great third space where you shouldn’t be judged for any point of view,” she said, as Small and Marsh entered the room dressed in drag and ready to read.
With enemies like Johnston, Small observed after surveying the growing crowd, who needs friends?
“The more they (critics) talk about it, the more we get people to come out to our events,” Nikki Champagne declared, a day after the pair performed before about 30 people at the Jericho Town Library and a few hours before they held their second straight story hour at the Ainsworth Public Library in Williamstown.
The Montpelier event made headlines and it was the one that drew by far the biggest crowd.
On a morning when the closest thing to a “demonstration” was actually a show of solidarity, the queens ruled at Kellogg-Hubbard.
Folks of all ages and genders attended the event, and while many brought children, more than a few did not.
Gingey, who did not provide a last name or a preferred pronoun, was among the latter.
Gingey, who lives in North Bennington, showed up an hour early with a rainbow flag.
“I wanted to show support and make everybody feel safe,” Gingey said.
So did Marka May, who traveled from Shaftsbury with a big banner boasting a dragon with flowing locks and the words “Drag On.”
However, Brennan said rules are rules and politely asked those with banners to move away from the library entrance and up to the public sidewalk.
“The library is private property and I don’t let anybody demonstrate on private property,” she said, explaining the “universal rule” guarded against those who might show up pushing a much different agenda.
Those that did show up came for a variety of reasons.
Montpelier resident Linda Quinlan, who co-hosts the show “All Things LGBTQ” on the local public-access station, said for her, the stories were a bonus.
“I’m here to support the drag queens,” she said.
Julia Rogers said she made the trip from Stowe to Montpelier with her daughters, Claire, 3, and Nora, 5, for a simple reason that she discussed with them on the way.
“We’re here to celebrate diversity,” she said.
Some moms think alike.
Lauren Hierl of Montpelier said she brought her sons Elias, 8, and Isaac, 5, for similar reasons.
“I want to show my kids all kinds of people and that we want to accept all kinds of people,” she said.
Hierl said she liked the “positive energy” of the story hour and appreciated the “supportive” audience.
“That says a lot,” she said.
One mother from Barre, who preferred not to share her name, said she and her children enjoyed the show and offered some simple advice to those who might object to it.
“If you don’t like it, don’t come,” she said with shrug.
Montpelier resident Amanda Garces didn’t just like it.
“We loved it,” she said, describing Small and Marsh as entertaining and engaging readers.
Garces got no argument from her six-year-old daughter, Isabel, or son, Henry, 3.
Isabel Garces said the drag queens saved the best book — “King and King” – for last.
“That was my favorite,” she said of a book that ends with the same-sex marriage of two princes who live happily ever after.
Nora Rogers said she preferred “A Big Guy Took My Ball” — a book from the “Elephant and Piggie” series that the drag queens read during an interactive performance you didn’t have to be a child to enjoy.
Just ask Jeri Ryan, who came from St. Johnsbury hoping to persuade Small and Morse to bring their show to the Northeast Kingdom.
“It was wonderful!” Ryan exclaimed.
After wrapping up in Montpelier, Small and Morse hopped in their car and headed to Williamstown. It wasn’t standing-room only at the Ainsworth Public Library, partly because it couldn’t have been. The story hour there was held outdoors, and a small crowd gathered on the lawn to hear Nikki Champagne and Emoji Nightmare read out loud a few feet from Route 14.