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Waterville children's bookstore faces strong response for planned drag queen reading

"Drag Queen Story Hour" at the Children's Book Cellar is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, June 1, and is free and open to the public.

WATERVILLE, Maine — The owner of a small bookstore in Waterville is planning a special event during the 2019 Central Maine Pride Festival weekend, but not everyone thinks it's all rainbows and sunshine.

Ellen Richmond is planning a "Drag Queen Story Hour" at the Children's Book Cellar on Main Street Saturday, June 1.

The event will feature a drag queen, a man dressed as a woman, reading to customers and their children, and then the children will be invited to make wands and crowns.

Her event has drawn mixed reviews of both cheer and criticism.

"I have been accused of inviting pedophiles in to mix and mingle with children," said Richmond. "The purpose of the story hour is to educate people that there are other lifestyles."

Richmond, who has owned the store since 2002, said this is her first time planning such an event. She got the idea at the American Bookseller's Association Children's Institute event last year.

"I thought, 'This is fun,'" said Richmond. "'It's colorful. Kids love dress up. Kids love stories. That's something I'd like to do sometime.' I didn't anticipate a huge event but I thought, 'Nice way to let kids see different lifestyles and different people in a non-threatening, fun way.'"

According to Richmond, organizers of the Pride weekend are interested in the idea, but not everyone is jumping on the LGBTQ bandwagon.

A social media storm started over the weekend when Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro posted on his personal Facebook account, calling attention to the event. He went on to write in the comments section, "Scandalizing the children in our community — trying to make us San Francisco. Unanimous vote to celebrate by our entire council!”

Isgro later told NEWS CENTER Maine via email that he was commenting as a private citizen at the time saying, "I did make personal comments on my personal social media that I disagree with the event and don’t think it’s appropriate for young children."

The story hour has prompted a debate on social media from parents and community members. Many express their opposition to the inclusion the store offers the LGBTQ community.

"I'm opposed to confusing children before puberty," said Pittsfield resident and father of two, Paul Bertocchi. "I think that's not right. I don't see why anybody should feel the need as an adult to explain their sexuality to a young child. I don't want anybody telling my children about what their sexuality is. I think it's akin to grooming children."

Bertocchi and his wife are organizing a group of people who plan to peacefully protest outside Richmond's event.

"I don't think any of it is worth getting in trouble over or being in handcuffs over," said Bertocchi. "We're not violent. We're not promoting violence. Everybody [in the group] is just conservative and morally opposed to having their kids explained to what a drag queen is and their sexuality. I'd be furious."

Bertocchi, the father of a 6 and 8-year-old, said he would be furious if another parent brought his children to this event or one similar in nature.

"I think it's morally bankrupt," added Bertocchi.

Credit: NCM

Others, meanwhile, have voiced support for the Book Cellar and its right to hold the event.

They've done a lot more than voice their support too.

Folks have been filing into the bookstore one after another to buy books specifically from Richmond as a show of support.

"I'm in Maine, and diversity is not necessarily one of the things we're noted for," said Richmond. "Bookstores welcome everyone."