Queens Councilmember Vickie Paladino drew criticism from her City Council colleagues after labeling drag queen events at city schools “degeneracy” and accusing progressives of having “no problem with child grooming and sexualization” in a series of tweets Monday.
“Progressives may have no problem with child grooming and sexualization, but I do,” Paladino tweeted. “This will not happen on my watch. Kids deserve a quality education free from political manipulation and sexual content.”
The tweets came in response to a New York Post article that reported the city had spent over $200,000 on performances by the group Drag Queen Story Hour NYC. The nonprofit puts on “fabulous education experiences for children and teens” in libraries, schools, museums, and other community spaces, according to its website. These events include storytelling programs and book discussions in English, Spanish, and Cantonese.
The city Department of Education defended their partnership with Drag Queen Story Hour NYC, pointing to murders of LGBTQ people as evidence of the need for programming that destigmatizes LGBTQ existence.
“Last year, 50 transgender or gender-nonconforming people were killed in the United States due to their identity, and we believe our schools play a critical role in helping young people learn about and respect people who may be different from them. This is life saving and affirming work,” DOE spokesperson Nathaniel Styer said in a statement, adding the city school system was proud to partner with the nonprofit. “We support our young people and are committed to providing safe, nurturing, and inclusive environments for all students and staff.”
On Thursday, Mayor Eric Adams in a statement admonished the councilwoman for her comments.
"At a time when our LGBTQ+ communities are under increased attack across this country, we must use our education system to educate,” the mayor said. “The goal is not only for our children to be academically smart, but also emotionally intelligent. Drag storytellers, and the libraries and schools that support them, are advancing a love of diversity, personal expression, and literacy that is core to what our city embraces."
Democrats on the council condemned the Queens Republican’s remarks.
“Any form of hate, including transphobia, has no place in this city, and certainly not in this Council," Speaker Adrienne Adams said in a statement. "The Council is looking into what further action may be warranted.”
“I condemn the bigoted remarks made by @vickiefornyc regarding @DQSHTweets, a cultural organization that serves our City’s youth. NYC is a safe haven where our queer community is welcomed and loved,” tweeted Brooklyn Councilmember Chi Ossé, the chair of the council’s Cultural Affairs Committee. “There is no room for hate in NYC, especially in the Council. CM Paladino must be held accountable for her comments.”
“Boy, they REALLY want to expose your kids to drag queens for some reason. Fortunately I answer only to the people of my district,” Paladino responded, inviting Ossé to visit her district to talk with parents and teachers. “Because what I have heard from MY constituents is that they have had enough of progressive radicalism and gender confusion in the classroom. And their concerns are valid, not bigoted.”
She then doubled down, calling drag shows in schools and progressive gender views “grooming behaviors.”
The use of “grooming” to describe LGBTQ people and their behavior is becoming common parlance among right-wing politicians who favor restrictions on public schools’ teachings on sexual orientation and gender identity. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is a proponent of legislation regulating instruction in this area — most notably with what opponents have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law — and drew protests from activists and LGBTQ politicians ahead of a speech he gave Sunday in New York City.
DeSantis has not used the term “grooming” specifically, but has said opponents of the efforts “support sexualizing kids in kindergarten” and his press secretary said the bill would be more accurately described as an “Anti-Grooming Bill.”
New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino went to a Westchester County high school Wednesday to criticize a sex-ed class he labeled “inappropriate, vulgar, & criminal.”
And the New York Young Republican Club defended Paladino’s remarks, saying she was protecting children from “grooming.”
“Actually, @VickieforNYC is compassionate, serious, and morally correct in protecting children from grooming,” the group tweeted in response to Assemblymember Danny O’Donnell’s criticism of Paladino. “You should reevaluate your position and put children first, not adult males with a dress-up obsession.”
Fellow Queens Councilmember Tiffany Cabán said Paladino’s comments could lead to violence against LGBTQ people.
“Drag Story Hour NYC shows young, queer NYers that they’re valid, that they truly belong,” Cabán tweeted. “Here’s a colleague likening it to child abuse, at a time when this “groomer” rhetoric is fueling a wave of violence against queer folks."
“People want to talk about hate violence? Drag Story Hour NYC is how we reduce hate violence, not more policing. It’s public safety infrastructure,” she added.
The Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, a large LGBTQ political club, said Paladino’s remarks could lead to violence like a recent attack on a San Francisco Drag Queen Story Hour event by a group of men now being investigated for a hate crime.
"Be certain, this one term Councilmember doesn’t care about kids,” the club tweeted. “She cares about parroting her party’s homophobia and getting headlines.”
Paladino is no stranger to controversy. In January, she refused to disclose her vaccination status to the council, comparing the requirement to Nazi Germany in an interview with NY1, which she later apologized for.