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Brownsville Celebrates LGBTQ+ Community And Pride: 'Our City Is Growing'

Brownsville residents participate in a LGBTQ+ flag raising ceremony.
Reynaldo Leaños Jr. | Texas Public Radio
Brownsville residents participate in a LGBTQ+ flag raising ceremony.

Pride Month is coming to an end and this year many of the usual pride marches, rallies and events took place online. That includes the City of Brownsville’s first Drag Queen Storytime — a virtual event that caused some in the community to protest.

The Brownsville Public Library invited kids and parents to tune in Friday morning for a reading of Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love.

“Hi folks my name is Kween Beatrix and today I’m at the Brownsville Performing Arts Academy in the heart of downtown Brownsville to share one of my favorite books,” said Kween Beatrix, which is Joe Colon Uvalles’ drag name.

He’s a dragtivist — a drag queen activist — in the Rio Grande Valley.

In the Facebook video, Kween Beatrix wears a floral dress, with some big glasses and a chunky sparkling necklace.

“And now Julián is using his imagination,” Beatrix said holding the book. “It looks like Julian is imagining himself as a mermaid.”

In the story, Julián tells his abuela that he’s a mermaid.

When she leaves the room, Julián’s imagination soars and he uses items around the house to transform into a mermaid.

Credit Amazon
"Julian Is a Mermaid" by Jessica Love

Colon Uvalles told TPR before storytime that he chose the book because it’s relatable. 

“As lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer people, a lot of us, many of us, have experienced a moment in time where we have chosen to express ourselves fully in public and sometimes that can be met with a lot of hostility and can be met with a lot of pushback,” he said.

Colon Uvalles and the library received some of that pushback last week when someone created an online petition to stop Drag Queen Storytime.

“This is something that has created a lot of controversy for, in my opinion, no real good reason,” said Brownsville’s Mayor Trey Mendez, who supported the event.

“There’s so many other things in our community that are more important and more life-threatening than having a drag queen read a book,” he said.

The online petition said it was “dangerous” and “responsible for corrupting children with perverse notions of human nature.”

For years, libraries across the country have hosted events where drag queens read to children. Some have been met with protests. Supporters say it encourages literacy and introduces kids to the idea of inclusivity.

Colon Uvalles said his heart sank when he read the petition.

Kween Beatrix reading at Drag Queen Story Hour.
Credit Brownsville Public Library
Kween Beatrix reading at Drag Queen Story Hour.

“This person was using very discriminatory language about our community, was using old tropes about queer people and things that aren’t true about people who are LGBTQ and people who perform in the artform of drag,” he said.

More than 1,000 people signed the petition against Drag Queen Storytime, but a counter petition received almost four times as many signatures.

Mayor Mendez said he wasn’t surprised by the debate.

“I think being our culture down here, being primarily Hispanic, it’s still something that I think our culture is dealing with in trying to understand,” said Mendez. “I hope that as time goes by and some members of our community learn to discuss this with their family that that kind of helps the dialogue going forward.”

Mendez said the City of Brownsville is at the forefront of being a progressive and inclusive community in the Rio Grande Valley.

A group of Brownsville residents pose at a LGBTQ+ flag raising ceremony.
Credit Reynaldo Leaños Jr. | Texas Public Radio
A group of Brownsville residents pose at a LGBTQ flag raising ceremony.

Brownsville created the first LGBTQ+ task force in the region, which gives the community a voice in city government. Brownsville also issued a proclamation in recognition of Pride Month.

“I hope that as we continue to do things like this we continue to build awareness that some of that stigma in some of these young people who may not know how to deal with it or may not know how to discuss it with their families can feel more comfortable because we see a high rate of suicide,” he said. “We see a high rate of depression amongst the LGBTQ community and that’s just something that’s wrong.”

Colon Uvalles said he’s grateful that the city stood beside him — and Kween Beatrix.

“I hope that people see that our city is growing and evolving and I think that’s really beautiful and I think that if people give themselves a chance to understand that we are coming from a place of love and we are coming from a place of celebrating our community that they can celebrate with us,” he said.

By the end of the book, Julián’s abuela finds him dressed up as a mermaid.

“This is where the book is really powerful because the abuela basically sees Julian and says that this is okay,” said Colon Uvalles. “That him choosing to play dress up as a mermaid does not mean anything about him other than he has a very creative imagination.”

That’s one of the messages Kween Beatrix hopes anyone who tuned in was able to take away.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr. can be reached at Reynaldo@TPR.org and on Twitter at @ReynaldoLeanos.

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Reynaldo Leaños Jr. can be reached at reynaldo@tpr.org and on Twitter at @ReynaldoLeanos