PBS Children's Show Faces Criticism for Supporting Drag Queen Segment

A PBS station in New York is facing backlash after it aired a children's program featuring drag queen Lil' Miss Hot Mess. Recently airing and showing Lil' Miss Hot Mess singing and reading from their book, The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish, the program, part of Let's Learn, has come under criticism from some who have deemed it inappropriate, with some even calling for PBS to be defunded.

Produced in partnership with WNET and the New York City Department of Education, but "not funded or distributed by PBS," Let's Learn is geared towards children in 3-K through second grade and acts as "a supplemental resource for remote and blended learning." According to the website, the program features "lessons taped by educators" and "offers age-appropriate content that is aligned to education standards and lessons for early childhood education, focusing on foundational reading and writing skills, literacy, math, science, social studies and the arts." In the broadcast now at the center of controversy, Lil' Miss Hot Mess read from her book, which they said they wrote "because I wanted everyone to get to experience the magic of drag, and to get a little practice shaking their hips or shimmying their shoulders – to know how we can feel fabulous inside of our own bodies." The book, according to Fox News, features characters including Frida Bea Mee, Stinkerbelle, Mother Lucy Goosey, Pina Buttah-Gelee, and Cinderfella, and "follows a drag queen who performs her routine in front of an awestruck audience." During the segment, Lil' Miss Hot Mess also danced and sang, "the hips on the drag queen go swish, swish, swish. Swish, swish, swish. Swish, swish, swish," to the tune of "The Wheels on the Bus."

The episode immediately became the center of scrutiny from people online, where one person labeled the segment, dubbed "Drag Queen Storytime," as "so outrageously inappropriate." Another person said the segment was "disgusting," with somebody else tweeting that "this filth being pushed at children must be stopped." Fox Nation host Tyrus Murdoch even criticized the show, saying that while he has "no issue" with conversations surrounding gender, he was "more concerned" with his children's educational progress in things like math and English. He said, "but as far as a TV show doing this for me—no thank you, I will change the channel on this one."

The response to the show hasn't all been negative, though, and many have praised the series for being inclusive. Responding to the backlash, one person questioned, "I reckon its better that we hide gender and sexual diversity from children so they can live for years not understanding their own feelings and suffer the psychological damage that goes with such repression alone." That person added that "we need openness about the many aspects of humanity to be available in the public conscience (rather than it being hushed whispers)."

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In a statement to Fox News, Lindsey Horvitz of WNET explained that "Let's Learn storybooks are selected by early literacy experts at the New York City Department of Education," adding that the program "strives to incorporate themes that explore diversity and promote inclusivity, which are relevant to education and society." Horvitz said, "Drag is a performance art that can inspire creative thinking and the questioning of stereotypes."