Desmond Napoles first became a social media sensation back in 2015, when he sashayed his way down Fifth Avenue in the New York City Pride March, wearing a pink tutu. He was 8 years old.
But despite the advocacy work that he’s done with young people in the queer community and the numerous performances he’s given that have been praised, Desmond and his family have frequently come under attack by people who question his parent’s intentions in giving their son, now 11, such a public platform. That skepticism has recently led to the logging of over 200 complaints with New York City’s Administration for Child Services (ACS).
“Truthfully, we were investigated more intensely than any case they’ve had before,” Desmond’s mother, Wendy Napoles, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Because they’ve never dealt with this before, ACS. They’ve never dealt with that many calls for one family, they’ve never dealt with it being an LGBTQ case related to a youth.”
The complaints that led to a months-long investigation were sparked by a performance that Desmond did back in December 2018 at a gay bar in in New York City. Photos and video of the event incited negative reactions from people online, who said that the young boy shouldn’t have been in a venue with a bar. However, Wendy insists that her son was well protected.
“The place does have a bar, but the bar is in a whole separate room divided by several doors. Desmond was only allowed on the stage and in his private dressing room. He wasn’t allowed even near the bar,” Wendy explains. “But the conservative media got a hold of this and they said that he was stripping in a gay bar for dollars for pedophiles.”
According to Wendy, tipping is customary for drag queens, and she and her husband, Andrew, allow Desmond to use any of the money that he makes for toys or whatever else he desires. Still, people saw the performance as inappropriate and even exploitative, which provoked a call to action in the form of reports to ACS.
Throughout the past three months, over 200 cases regarding the Napoles family have been opened with ACS alone, sending it all the way up to New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo. But Wendy says that several other agencies also investigated their family by looking at every video, every interview and every photo of Desmond — including those being circulated by different hate groups.
“ACS was here unannounced, announced, every single day. They would come at all hours,” Wendy says. “They would come at 3 in the morning even on school nights. They would visit Desmond at his school several times a week and pull him out of class. His grades went down, he thought it was embarrassing, he just started middle school. It’s just been a really horrible experience.”
Social media, where Desmond has aggregated over 150,000 followers, turned into a platform where the family would address the hardships of the investigation and even pose questions to those who were placing the reports. Ultimately, Wendy took to that same platform to share the results of the investigation as a form of defense for her family.
“The report was determined to be ‘unfounded,'” the letter from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services reads. “This means that CPS did not find believable proof (credible evidence) that a child was abused or maltreated.”
The ACS didn’t immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment. However, Wendy says that the check-ins have yet to stop, while the agency also continues to provide the family with preventative resources, such as therapy for Desmond, as well as extra security for him while at school.
“He’s been traumatized in the way that he started to believe that all of this was his fault. And it’s so damaging to him,” Wendy continues. “He feels bad about the stress our family’s under, and he’s pretty much taken the burden on himself. So ACS has been giving us a lot of community and support services at this point.”
But even through the trauma that Wendy says her son has faced, she says that Desmond doesn’t want to stop interacting with people through his social media account — although he’s cancelled some upcoming performances.
“It’s just so important to him to help these people, and it’s really great that he realizes that responsibility that he’s taken on at his age. So he doesn’t want to take a break,” Wendy says of his being a role model for other LGBTQ youth. “It’s like his main mission. I would say that his advocacy work is probably more important to him than doing drag.”
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
• High schooler who posted Bible verses in response to pride flags suspended for ‘targeting’ Gay-Straight Alliance club
• Principal told 4th-grader her LGBTQ essay was ‘not acceptable,’ says lawsuit
• Transgender man who gave birth opens up about his pregnancy: ‘I don’t see myself as any less of a man’