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Drag Queens partner with Ithaca Teachers’ Association

Tilia+Cordata+reading+from+a+picture+book+while+Chardonnay%2C+in+a+backwards+bedazzled+cap%2C+looks+on.
Cordata (left) reads from a picture book while Chardonnay (right) listens. (Photo by Chloe Johnston/Ithaca Week).

Education and Entertainment 

Buffalo Street Books is one of the many businesses hosting educators and their families for Ithaca Loves Teachers, an annual celebration that began in 2005, according to the Ithaca Times. 

In partnership with Buffalo Street Books, local drag queens Tilia Cordata and Coraline Chardonnay have established a drag story hour that runs every two months. This month, they read picture books: ”Lila Greer, Teacher of the Year,” “Buffalo Fluffalo” and ”Cranky,” about a “crane truck with big feelings.”

Close up on the picture book Cranky.
Close up on “Cranky” as Chardonnay reads to a crows of children. Photo by Chloe Johnston/Ithaca Week

“We try to work in some sort of lesson or theme depending on the time of the year or what topics the books cover, so there’s always an educational twist along with the entertainment value of kids’ books being read by drag queens,” Cordata said. 

Chardonnay said a large number of the crowd was “local educators and their families,” many of whom are union represented. The drag queen is also a union member as a local German teacher for middle school and 10th grade students and has partnered with the Ithaca Teachers’ Association (ITA) many times in her work as a performer. 

TeachersUnion Leadership Connects With Membership

ITA President Kathryn Cernera, an English teacher at DeWitt Middle School, explained that they were raffling prize baskets in order to raise money for political action, and that many of the participants in the story hour would make their annual donation during this timeframe.

The celebration is one of the reasons Jacob Chapin, member services chair of the union, said he moved to the city rather than commuting to his job as a special education teacher. 

“[ITA] is here to support free reading, the public spaces and the access to books that would let people read,” Chapin said. 

He went on to explain the union’s current campaign, Fix Tier Six, which is advocating for changes to the pension plan for teachers and other public sector workers in New York. Tier Six includes all workers hired on or after April 1st, 2012. Cernera and Chapin agreed that community members should contact their local representative in order to assist.

“All public employees [of New York State, including teachers] are fighting for pension equity […] because our two newest tiers are given very different experiences and expectations [from prior tiers],” Cernera said.

“We need to have strong communities. We need strong public service workers […] recruiting and retaining them is challenging when the pension system is not what was promised, ” she added. 

Education for Everyone, By Everyone 

Cordata is also an educator, working at Cornell University as a postdoctoral candidate in horticulture. Her drag name is the scientific term for littleleaf linden, a plant native to Europe. While reading from “Buffalo Fluffalo”, Cordata explains how European walnuts grow to curious children and adults alike. 

“Teachers are largely underappreciated by [society] … it is important to recognize that many people serve as educators, in many forms,” Cordata said.

Cordata and Chardonnay sit side by side on a green couch while Cordata picks a book from the pile next to her.
Cordata (left) picks a book from the table while Chardonnay (right) looks on. (Photo by Chloe Johnston/Ithaca Week).

The events come at a time when the right for LGBTQ+ individuals to serve as educators is being questioned by conservative legislators and groups. According to the ACLU’s tracking system, there are over 400 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in circulation nationwide. Of those bills, 21 are drag bans. 

Per Chardonnay, spaces like Drag Story Hour are “extensions of classrooms” that teach social-emotional learning, literacy and community building. They “dovetail” with local teachers in order to supplement childhood education, as well as giving children the chance to understand and interact with the LGBTQ+ community. 

Ithaca Loves Teachers runs until February 29. Cordata and Chardonnay agreed the next Drag Story Hour would be “a Sunday in April.” Everyone is welcome. 

“Drag Story Hour does not have an age limit,” Chardonnay said. 

For More Information

For more on Drag Story Hour, Ithaca Loves Teachers and reading recommendations about the intersections between LGBTQ+ culture and educational spaces, check out my profile on X.  For updates on the next Drag Story Hour, see Buffalo Street Booksevents catalog.

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