A visit from a drag queen who participated in a literacy event at a school in Colorado sparked outrage from some parents. But the school is standing by its choice.
The event was hosted last week by Rocky Top Middle School in Thornton, Colorado. Guests were invited by the school to talk about their jobs and the connection of literacy to their careers.
Dancer and performance artist Zachary Sullivan, whose stage name is Jessica L’Whor, told CNN on Wednesday he was invited to the event after a fan who attends the school suggested him as a guest.
Sullivan, who is gay, was dressed in character and said he introduced himself as Miss Jessica, deciding to drop part of his stage name because he was in a school environment. He spoke about his career and read from the book series “Horrible Harry,” using it to talk about bullying and acceptance.
Sullivan said it was amazing to speak at the school event.
“Everybody was sweet and wanted to get to know me,” Sullivan said, adding the students thanked him for coming and some even shared their own experiences about being bullied or being gay.
But some parents expressed concern over Sullivan being included as a guest.
A parent identified as Heather Rogers told CNN affiliate KDVR Sullivan is “an adult entertainer and is talking to 12-year-old students about something that’s kind of adult-natured.”
In a letter sent to parents and obtained by KDVR, school principal Chelsea Behanna said she took “responsibility for not notifying parents ahead of time,” adding the school will share the guest list before the event next year.
“Should you feel like any of the sessions are not appropriate for your child, you’ll be welcome to notify us and we’ll make alternate arrangements for your child during that time,” the letter read.
However, Behanna said the literacy event “reflected the diversity in our community” and she added “students were completely engaged and asked lots of great questions” when Sullivan spoke.
The letter from Behanna also stated why Sullivan decided to read from “Horrible Harry.”
“She used the text to illustrate the damage bullies can do, the need to always put kindness and acceptance at the forefront, and the shortsightedness of judging a book by its cover,” the letter read.
Joe Ferdani, the school district’s spokesperson, told CNN affiliate KCNC the school’s focus was to have an event “that is representative of the diverse backgrounds and careers in the community.” Ferdani also said parents should have been notified in advance about the guest and what was going to be discussed.
Sullivan said he’s thankful the school didn’t apologize for including him as guest.
“I knew it was going to generate conversation,” Sullivan said, adding he hopes to go be invited to more schools to keep the conversation about diversity and acceptance going.