A controversial UK politician has written to the chair of Tate’s board of trustees decrying the institution’s decision to invite a drag queen to perform to a group of children at Tate Britain in London next month.
In an open letter, the Conservative Party life peer Emma Nicholson describes the planned appearance by Aida H Dee, the drag alias of Sab Samuel, as “propaganda” and “nonsense on stilts”. Samuel, who is due to appear at the London museum on 11 February as part of LGBTQ History Month in the UK, is a member of Drag Queen Story Hour UK, a group that organises storytelling and reading sessions run by drag queens for children aged between three and 11 years old. On its website, Tate describes Aida as an “ADHD, neurodivergent, queer hero of literature” and “the first drag artist in Europe to read stories to children in a nursery”.
“Having adults read to children is a wonderful thing, of course, but why does it have to be a man pretending to be a woman?” the open letter reads. Nicholson goes on to equate drag queens with “murderers, paedophiles, terrorists, furries and other fetishists”.
Nicholson signs the letter as the chair of Children and Women First, a parliamentary lobbying group advocating for children and women with a pointed focus on gender issues pertaining to trans people. In 2020, Nicholson came under fire for mocking and misgendering the trans model and activist Munroe Bergdorf, referring to her as a “weird creature” and accusing her of soliciting teenagers over her attempts to support trans youths.
The letter comes amid a petition signed by some 3,500 people demanding Tate stop advocating “gender ideology” to children. The petition, which the Telegraph reports as having been written by the group Art Not Propaganda, states that Tate, as a state-funded institution, is answerable to the public. A similar petition was launched on Change.org but was taken down by the website the same day due to its discriminatory purpose.
This is not the first time Samuel’s performances have drawn ire from conservative members of the public: a recent tour by Aida H Dee of 70 UK libraries last summer was met with heckling from anti-LGBTQ protestors who accused the performer of “grooming” children. Samuel was reportedly given a police escort when leaving the venue. In a recent interview he told Pinknews that he is wary of similar protests at Tate, adding that the Tory government are to blame for the “queer hate that’s running rampant in the UK”.
“Baroness Nicholson’s claim to put women and children ‘first’ closely aligns with those on the far right who claim to also put Britain or America ‘first’,” says Frances Williams, the learning and participation manager at Queercircle, a recently opened London LGBTQ-focused art institution, continuing that “a ‘culture war’ is being waged through our public institutions”.
“It’s important that our public institutions, which are publicly funded, reflect society as a whole and not a minority of zealots. Through our public exhibitions at Queercircle we have shown how drag queens have long joined forces with feminists to protest sexist gender tropes in popular culture, as when they jointly invade the Miss World Competition in 1971. Through our family programme we promote the work of LGBTQ+ writers, including those who write for children. Families tell us they find safety and connection in a cultural space where they do not have to worry about being socially stigmatised. These stories simply affirm our right to exist and thrive and as such, are important for children’s healthy development and parental well-being alike,” Williams says.
In a statement, a Tate spokesperson says: “We do not programme artists in order to promote particular points of view, nor to reconcile differing points of view. Our galleries offer a broad programme and visitors have the freedom to choose which aspects of it they engage with.” Tate adds that it does not comment on security matters and so declined to say whether there will be increased security presence for Aida H Dee’s performance.