Two Fridays ago, the Child Protection League Action’s Facebook page put out an urgent missive to its followers.
“Debauchery and sexual grooming are going on at our local taxpayer-funded Hennepin County Public Libraries right now,” it said.
It included a picture from a Drag Story Hour performance that took place at the Ridgedale Library the day before. It showed the performer—smiling, bedazzled, and made up to perfection—sitting on a chair and reaching for a book, showing just a bit of tan shorts and spandex under a colorful dress.
“He looks like he is naked,” the post read.
It’s been shared 2,500 times and collected over 1,000 comments, most of which are outraged.
“This is not ok to do to children!!!!!!!” one commenter said.
“They need to filter out that nasty naked transgender with his legs wide open,” another added.
The performer in the photo is Sasha Sota, who, let the record show, was definitely not naked.
Sasha is only a year and change into their drag career. The story hour event happened to be early in the morning, and they were running late. So although they put on literally “five” layers of tan leggings, they forgot to add the usual pair of panties on top of everything else.
For the most part, everything went great. The librarians loved the way Sasha interacted with the audience, and a bunch of attendees approached them for pictures after they were done reading. But there was one part that was a little odd. Sasha noticed an adult in the back of the room who didn’t seem to be with a child, and who was taking photos of them throughout.
It was only a few days later when they discovered the picture online, conveniently snapped the one second their legs weren’t crossed or folded together.
“I was picking up a book,” they explain. They kicked themself for forgetting the panties. In fact, they wish they’d been wearing a full-length gown and a ski mask rather than deal with the vitriol that followed.
After the league’s Facebook post, a steady onslaught of strangers began hitting up the page Sasha set up for their drag persona, accusing them of being a child molester and telling them to kill themself. They flooded their reviews, vowed to find out their real name, even promised to hunt them down.
This is pretty standard for the league, which didn’t respond to interview requests. When Rosedale Center put on a similar back in April, the league sent followers after the mall and event organizer Chad Kampe—only to become indignant when supporters started flooding its page with drag show love. Drag Story Hours in Twin Cities libraries always get hit with some online rancor, but they continue to be some of the most popular events on offer.
But the photo made Sasha an easy target, and it was about to get worse. On Monday, conservative blogger Wayne Dupree posted a piece titled “Minnesota Drag Queen Flashes his Crotch During Children’s ‘Story Hour.’” The Washington Standard, a right-wing news site, also picked it up, and the story got slapped onto Reddit, too. As Sasha’s notifications and texts multiplied, they feared this was going to be a bigger deal than they originally thought.
Library staff told Sasha they hadn’t done anything wrong. They also said as much to City Pages. To some extent, they were prepared for this blowback. Sasha’s performance was one of 17 drag story events planned for LGBTQ History Month. Diversity coordinator Christy Mulligan says the library system started getting far-flung complaints and threats long before any of the performances even took place. But the photo gave detractors much more ammo to work with.
“A lot of our staff have been receiving calls that are pretty harassing,” she says. Especially since many of them are members of the queer and trans community themselves.
That’s not to say they’re going to stop putting on programs like these going forward. Since drag queens have long been leaders on the front lines of queer and trans campaigns for equal rights, staff felt including them in the month’s events made perfect sense.
And Sasha says they’re not done, either. They’d gladly do storytime again, but probably in a different outfit. For now, they’re hoping all this online ruckus isn’t going to damage their fledgling career. At this rate, they may have to delete their Facebook page.
“I’m not any of the things they’re saying about me,” they say. “I was there to have a fun time.”