Eastern P.E.I. theatre postpones drag storytime event over online attacks

Organizers say this kind of family-friendly event promotes inclusivity and conversations around gender diversity, but after negative, hateful messages were posted on social media, they decided to postpone.

Kings Playhouse in Georgetown reschedules event ‘out of an abundance of caution’

man with glasses in a floral print shirt smiles at the camera
'I am working very hard to bring an inclusive environment here on P.E.I. for people who don’t fit into the norm around here,' says Trey Yeo. (Tony Davis/CBC)

A drag storytime event planned for the Kings Playhouse in Georgetown has been postponed after it was the target of online attacks. 

Trey Yeo, a drag performer and producer who performs under the persona of Treyla Parktrash, was set to read a children's book to families at the Kings Playhouse in March.

He says the purpose of the event was to promote inclusivity and acceptance in a supportive atmosphere for kids.

"I was going to dress like a Disney princess, we were going to read a few books, [and] in between the books, we were going to have a few activities, like colouring — just showing kids that they can have a good time but also be themselves, be authentic."

children's book cover with a smiling rabbit wearing a colourful bow tie
A detail from the cover of the children's book, A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, which was to be read at the drag storytime at the Kings Playhouse. (CBC)

The plan was to have a performer read a children's book, A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, about a romance between two rabbits of the same gender.

"It's a really sweet story," said Catherine O'Brien, interim executive director at the King's Playhouse. "[It's about] two bunnies in love. I mean, what can you not love about that?"

The storytime has not been cancelled entirely, the theatre said in a Facebook post: "We are thrilled to be working with the Provincial Library to plan a new date for this event, and we look forward to continuing our inclusive programming for Islanders."

Some of the backlash on social media featured expletives and anti-LGBTQ slurs. Other posts fixated on the graphic for the event, which stated it was only for children under 10.

O'Brien said that graphic could have been worded better.

"It wasn't meant that parents can't be there with the kids … I should have maybe made it just that it was for families," she said. 

Woman in red winter jacket outdoors
'We still really believe it's an important thing to do. We want to do it,' says Kings Playhouse interim executive director Catherine O'Brien. (Tony Davis/CBC)

"We were looking at the age level that would really be engrossed by this book that we had chosen … Children over the age of 10 just might find it a little bit young for them, that was it."

O'Brien said the playhouse has hosted drag events in the past with little backlash. But after the negative comments and hateful messages began to spread, they decided to postpone the event "out of an abundance of caution."

"It has become quite aggressive online and our drag queen performer has also been personally harassed," she said. 

"We still really believe it's an important thing to do. We want to do it."

Events have attracted protests

Drag storytime events have become popular at libraries and community centres across Canada, as a way to start conversations with families and children.

"It is a great way to entertain and also help families understand gender diversity," said O'Brien. 

But as the events have grown in popularity, protests have also taken place across the country — a trend that is "really concerning" to Scott Alan, men's sexual health program coordinator with Charlottetown-based PEERS Alliance.

"I think it does a lot of damage to the community as a whole," he said.

man in yellow toque and collared shirt in office
Scott Alan of PEERS Alliance says there are mental health supports available for performers on the Island being targeted aggressively on social media. (Tony Davis/CBC)

"This type of harassment is unnecessary and the type of programming that's made for the youth is right, and it's good for them at the end of the day."

Alan said there are mental health supports available for performers and community members facing harassment, including Our Landing Place, which offers fully funded mental health services to the LGBTQ2IA+ community on P.E.I. 

"We're all here to help these individuals through these situations and offer them support that they need," he said.

The show must go on

Meanwhile, Yeo said he's received support for past events and performances on the Island, and will carry on with other upcoming shows.

"I am working very hard to bring an inclusive environment here on P.E.I. for people who don't fit into the norm around here," he said. 

"I'm still going to go, if not harder now, to be present here on P.E.I., especially as a queer person, as a drag entertainer."

Yeo has made his social media accounts private but said he's been doing his best to not let the hate get to him. 

drag queen with red hair looking up
Trey Yeo's character Treyla Parktrash was set to read to families at a drag storytime at the Kings Playhouse in March. (Submitted by Trey Yeo)

"The whole point of these events are to show people that the 2SLGBTQ+ community are not evil and that to demonize this group is not the right thing to be doing," he said. 

"We as individuals only want to inspire everyone, to live their authentic life and to just, you know, we just want to spread joy and love. That's all it is."