Drag Queen Story Hour Brings Fun—And Continued Protests

Lafayette Library Board of Control President Joseph Gordon-Wiltz has submitted a letter of resignation in the wake of Drag Queen Story Hour protests. 

Update: Lafayette Library Board of Control President Joseph Gordon-Wiltz has submited a letter of resignation, according to KFLY.com.

It’s been nearly three years since the first Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) was held at the San Francisco Public Library. Since then, the events have gained popularity across the U.S. and Canada, with drag queens reading, singing, and doing crafts with kids ages three to eight in a way that “captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models,” according to the DQSH website.

It is a favorite event at many libraries and book stores. At the Virginia Beach (VA) Public Library, an August story hour quickly hit the 35 child sign-up limit, creating the need for a waiting list. In Ames, IA, a DQSH motivated a parent to suggest to staff that they create drag programming, which became a four-week summer workshop.

Drag Queen Story Hour at Posman Books in Atlanta. (Photo: DQHS Instagram @dragqueenstoryhour)

The program, however, is not always welcomed by all members of the community. Instead statements are issued, website commentaries written, and social media feeds flooded with critics and supporters battling each other online.

In Mobile, AL, a pastor is speaking out against a planned September event, and a group is organizing a protest. In Lafayette, LA, the mayor-president is trying to cancel the library’s October DQSH event. Just this past week, the Rahway (NJ) Public Library held a Drag Queen Story Hour despite negative comments and residents finding flyers in their mailboxes about the story time that used the words “predator,” “unnatural,” and “abnormal.” Harmonica Star entertained the children without incident on Tuesday, August 21, and the DQSH Instagram account posted a photo with a caption noting Rahway community members fighting intolerance. (Comments on the post, however, call the volunteer readers in drag “sick” and “demonic.”)

Jeff Deminski, a talk show host on New Jersey’s 101.5 FM, wrote about the event—which was presented by the Friends of the Rahway Public Library in collaboration with the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders through the Office of LGBTQ Services—on the station's website.

“The idea of all this is of course to build tolerance and acceptance. At the risk of receiving hate mail from both sides, I wouldn't take my young child to this nor do I have any problem with Harmonica Sunbeam doing this,” he wrote. “I already have raised my two older kids to be tolerant and accepting. They know there are different sexual orientations in this world just like there are different races and religions. We have friends who are gay and have been to our home and played with our kids. They know all about transgender people and have been raised not to look down on anyone and ask us questions if they have any.

“At the same time, for younger children, reading to them is always good. If you want that to be done specifically by a drag queen once in awhile [SIC] that's fine. I just don't find the need to go out of my way to bring them to a story time by a transvestite. Do I think it will "change" them? Of course not. Do I think it will confuse them? Possibly, yes. And as my younger two grow I wait for natural opportunities to teach them things about tolerance and acceptance just as I did a great job of with my older two. While they say there's no agenda to ‘Drag Queen Story Hour’ I feel by the very title alone there's somewhat of an agenda. When the librarian reads it's not called ‘Middle-aged Cis Female Story Hour.’ If I read at my kids school it wouldn't be called ‘Overweight Straight Caucasian Male Story Hour.’ It would simply be a story hour. That the program is going out of its way to label itself shows this isn't just about reading stories to kids, which ought to be the focus.

“There's nothing wrong with them doing this for those who want to be involved. There's also nothing wrong with me looking for more natural opportunities to teach my children about differences among people in the world.”

Drag Queen Story Hour in Manhattan, KS.  (Photo: DQHS Instagram @dragqueenstoryhour)

Meanwhile, in Mobile, local pastors and other speakers "express[ed] concerns about the event before a large crowd at the Mobile County Commission meeting at Government Plaza" on August 27, AL.com reported.  "We recognize it as the opening salvo in a clearly defined cultural war," said the Rev. Mack Morris, senior pastor at Woodridge Baptist Church, according to AL.com. "We must protect our children."  Local residents opposed to the story hour were also expected to appear before before the City Council on August 28.

The Mobile Public Library Board previously issued a statement to AL.com that read, "Permission to use a library meeting room does not constitute library endorsement of any group's policies, objectives, goals or beliefs. If we exclude one group, we must exclude all."

The drag queen scheduled for the event, Khloe Kash, lives in Mobile and spoke to AL.com, professing a love for the city.

"It's an amazing city. The culture. The arts. The people. It's something that is almost, story-like."

"There are so many people out there who aren't pleased and who feel like this is something that is very distributing to them,” said Kash, who, the website noted, moved to Mobile from Tuscaloosa a little more than a year ago. "It's OK. You hate to see people who really don't understand and who are lashing out. But at the same time, all I can do is send them positive energy and love."

Chronicle Books entered the conversation, as well. Rainbow Mobile—a nonprofit group created earlier this year with a mission “of building a stronger, happier, healthier and more connected community for LGBTQ people throughout Southwest Alabama”— organized the event and selected Chronicle’s book Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer and Holly Clifton-Brown to be read during the event. Senior publicist Lara Starr released a letter of support to Rainbow Mobile:

“We are very proud to publish Stella Brings the Family. The book has earned starred reviews and media praise from The New York Times to the Huffington Post, and was selected as a Best Book of the Year [by] A Mighty Girl, Cool Mom Picks, and Bank Street College. It’s become a favorite of librarians, educators, bookseller and parents. This sweet story of the dilemma a young girl with two dads faces on Mother’s Day mirrors the lives of many kids in LGBTQ families, and offers a window into the experience for their peers.

"We were dismayed to read that The Common Sense Campaign TEA Party plans to protest, and offer our support for this event, and future Drag Queen Story Hours. These events are fun, engaging ways to connect young readers to LGBTQ role models, dispel prejudices and misconceptions, and are a rollicking good time.

"We hope the upcoming Drag Queen Story Hour is well attended and supported by the community, and that the protest is a minimal distraction to what should be a fun, meaningful event.”

Those against the program, however, continue to organize. The Facebook page for the Common Sense Campaign Tea Party, the group protesting the event, says, “A Drag Queen will read to our children ages 3 to 8 years at the Ben May Main Library, Mobile, on Saturday, Sept 8th. Kids love to play dress up, so they will be pulled in by this person."

It asked people to go to the library and "respectfully" hold signs in opposition, then went on to say, “Drag queens reading kids stories about homosexuality and transgenderism appears to be the latest craze sweeping public libraries in the United States and Canada." 

Drag Queen Story Hour in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.  (Photo: DQHS Instagram @dragqueenstoryhour)

Unlike in Mobile, where the mayor said he cannot control library programs and noted the First Amendment rights of the library to hold such programs, the mayor-president of Lafayette,  Joel Robideaux, wants to step in and try to cancel the event. Robideaux released the following statement:

“Currently, events of the Lafayette Public Library are neither authorized nor approved by Lafayette Consolidated Government (LCG), including the Drag Queen Story Time event scheduled for October 6, 2018 at the Library Main Branch. In response to public requests, LCG is working to determine how this event was approved as a programmed event of the Library, who has authority to cancel or move it, and the process for doing so.

“The Library has an Executive Director that is appointed by and answers to the Library’s Board of Control.

“As Mayor-President, I have one appointment to the Library’s Board of Control and the Lafayette City-Parish Council has the remaining seven appointments. I will be discussing cancellation of the event or privately-owned location alternatives with my appointment and encourage the Council to do the same.”

The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) spoke out in support of the Lafayette Public Library.

“As a public space, it is crucial that the library be free to host programming that may not appeal to all citizens, but that fosters open discussion and encourages discovery. The beliefs of one individual—or group of individuals-- cannot be allowed to undermine the rights of all members of the community to access programming in a public space.

This particular programming also helps combat bigotry and stigmatization of LGBTQ youth, whose experiences are traditionally underrepresented or silenced,” NCAC wrote.

“In a recent statement of support, the board of local television station Arcadiana Open Channel Community Media, stated: ‘We believe that providing space for new ideas not only honors the First Amendment of the Constitution and the core values of the United States as a nation of new ideas, but also, that it is the best way to grow as a public and as a community. Public space is the best space for free speech.’

"We could not agree more.”

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