Tate Goes Queer

On 11th February, Tate—Britain’s national museum of British and modern art—will host three performances of Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH). Aida H. Dee, the performer, is credited on Tate’s website as an “ADHD, neurodivergent, queer hero of literature, theatre, and children's entertainment. She is a patron of Autistic Inclusive Meets London, a professional author, a five-star Edinburgh Fringe act, has been featured in Forbes Magazine for her activism for neurodivergence and was recently awarded Local Leader Of The Year in 2022 by PinkNews.”

Aida H. Dee and/or Drag Queen Story Hour UK has been financially supported and platformed by organisations such as Forbes, Greenpeace, various queer/gay organisations, the NHS England, and the National Education Union. Tate is keen to keep up with other cultural institutions which have patronised the organisation, including the British Library and the British Museum. The event is due to take place at Tate Britain, London. Since 2000, Frances Morris has served as the Director of Tate Britain and was awarded a CBE in the latest New Year's Honours List. She is expected to retire this year.

Every Month is Gay Pride

The website for Drag Queen Story Hour UK offers museums single performances or a day's worth of events targeted at children for next month. It is not June, but at Tate, every month is Gay Pride Month. Tate has set out its intention to collect art on a demographic basis, with a priority to increase holdings of “women artists, LGBTQ+ artists, minority artists, and artists of colour.” In 2017, it held an exhibition of queer fine art in Great Britain from 1861-1967, and it offers twice-monthly tours with an LGBTQIA+ theme. On its website pages dedicated to children, Tate has a link to an unlisted YouTube video on minority sexual orientations, unrelated to art.

As a charity, Tate is not only tax-funded, it is tax-free. As such, visitors are paying the price of having their culture and propaganda pushed onto their children. Unfortunately, as Tate answers directly to the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), there is no hope that they will be held responsible for pushing the political beliefs of their staff onto visitors and altering the character of the collection and institution. Tate staff, DCMS, civil servants, MPs, and other influential people all equate minority sexual orientations and gender statuses with victimhood; they view the promotion and protection of such outlooks as virtuous. Thus, none of them may recognise principled objections to promoting such views in a DQSH, namely that it is: first, aimed at children; second, in an art gallery; and third, using public money. With the Aida H. Dee event, anyone in a position to prevent it taking place simply cannot see any argument against it. Queerness is the water in which arts administrators swim.

The Protesting DQSH

DQSH was devised in San Francisco in 2015 and has since spread widely and been highly controversial. Conservatives, Christians, and feminists have criticised the program, claiming it sexualises children, normalises fetishes, and acts as a cover for those with a sexual attraction to minors. In 2019, two convicted paedophiles read to children in Houston. Additionally, there have been reports of drag queens exposing their genitals to children during performances, although these claims are contested and fact-checking organisations have stated the incidents did not occur.

As Christopher Rufo notes in a lengthy and well-informed article on DQSH: 

“Advocates of Drag Queen Story Hour might reply that these are outlier cases and that many of the child-oriented events feature drag queens reading books and talking about gender, not engaging in sexualised performances. But the spirit of drag is predicated on the transgressive sexual element and the ideology of queer theory, which cannot be erased by switching the context and softening the language. The philosophical and political project of queer theory has always been to dethrone traditional heterosexual culture and elevate what [Gayle S.] Rubin [writer, gender activist] called the ‘sexual caste’ at the bottom of the hierarchy: the transsexual, the transvestite, the fetishist, the sadomasochist, the prostitute, the porn star, and the paedophile. Drag Queen Story Hour can attempt to sanitise the routines and run criminal background checks on its performers, but the subculture of queer theory will always attract men who want to follow the ideology to its conclusions.”  

In the U.S., passions have run high, with activist groups both in favour of and against Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) events protesting. The Proud Boys gathered at a venue to object to a DQSH, and Antifa has pledged to act as security for such events. No accusations of impropriety have yet been made against Aida H. Dee and Drag Queen Story Hour in the UK.

Breach of Remit

Ultimately, DQSH does not fit Tate's remit for activities as set out by parliamentary statute, which limits the gallery's activities to the fine arts. However, Tate has long since abandoned its commitment to fine art alone and to serving and representing British people and history. Instead, they declare, “Tate Britain’s approach to British art history will be transnational and transcultural.” This means that they no longer view Britain as uniquely important to their audience. “Transcultural” includes non-normative and non-traditional family structures, sexualities, and gender identities. Therefore, Tate's plan for future action deviates significantly from its authorised remit. Expect to see more events relating to minority sexuality/gender status, especially targeted at children.

There will be no reprimands or course corrections imposed from outside, as the civil servants of DCMS and their political superiors agree with the socio-political agenda of senior Tate staff. As a result, it is clear that there is no way of changing the system from within; the only path to returning Tate to its core duties is to completely purge its senior staff and much of its mid-level administration. This change must be thorough and externally implemented. In other words: “Clear them out.”

Alexander Adams is a British artist, critic and art historian. His book Iconoclasm, Identity Politics and the Erasure of History is published by Imprint Academic.