Who’s afraid of drag queens reading books to kids? A lot of people, apparently.
After the Lafayette Public Library announced that it would be hosting “Drag Queen Story Hour,” the southern Louisiana town’s mayor, Joel Robideaux, called for the event’s cancellation.
“Our parish libraries are public spaces, with venues that any group or individual can reserve, on a non-discriminatory basis, as required by law,” Robideaux said in a statement. “We have to be certain, however, that our internally approved programming is both appropriate and serves the needs of Lafayette Parish.”
“That is the only way our library system will continue to enjoy the support from our community that it has historically received,” he continued.
Dan Fagan, a columnist for the Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate, further claimed the event is “targeting young children.” In an op-ed published Tuesday, Fagan said it was “heartbreaking to think some parents will allow their young kids to be exposed to this agenda.”
“It’s a shame that for some, validation is so important, they’re willing to steal away our kids’ innocence,” he wrote. “Let’s allow kids to be kids. The last thing a 3- to 6-year-old child should be worried about is gender confusion.”
This is just the latest “Drag Queen Story Hour” to face opposition from conservatives.
The nationwide events, which have been held in libraries across 40 states, have been condemned by anti-LGBTQ groups like the American Family Association, California Family Council, Family Research Council, and the Illinois Family Institute.
Televangelist Pat Robertson of The 700 Club called the programs an “outrage.”
“Little teeny children as young as two years-old being exposed to cross-dressers, homosexuals who dress up as women and are called so-called drag queens,” Robertson claimed in an August 14 broadcast of the long-running program. “They’re men acting like women — and they used to, out in San Francisco, used to call them ‘he-shes’ — and they’re reading books to children.”
In the case of the Houston Public Library’s “Drag Queen Story Hour,” the Houston-Area Pastor Council and the Conservative Republicans of Texas mobilized supporters to email the library and demand it pull the event from its schedule. The latter has been deemed a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Steve Hotze, president of the Conservative Republicans of Texas, claimed in an online petition the event promotes child molestation.
“The purpose is, of course, to normalize this perverted behavior, so that these children can be more easily recruited into the LGBTQ lifestyle,” said Hotze, one of the key activists behind the repeal of Houston’s trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. “Exposing children to this bizarre sexual behavior is a form of pedophilia.”
But supporters say the events send a message of inclusivity and understanding. The National Coalition Against Censorship has come out against the Lafayette mayor’s attempt to ban Drag Queen Story Hour.
“Robideaux is certainly free to express his opinion,” said Nora Pelizzari, its director of communications, in a statement. “But any attempt to use his power to compel the library to cancel programming because he dislikes the viewpoint it expresses puts him at risk of violating the First Amendment.”
“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,” Pelizzari continued. “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.”
She added that Drag Queen Story Hour is intended to “combat bigotry and stigmatization of LGBTQ youth, whose experiences are traditionally underrepresented or silenced.”
Sarah Jane Guidry, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Forum for Equality, added that the events are educational.
“These popular events are about bringing families together to encourage literacy by reading children’s books in a fun way,” Guidry claimed in a press release. “Drag queens are performance artists, many of whom have children of their own. And every family should have the opportunity to use the public library as a place to share in our values of love, respect, education and diversity.”
But despite protests in states ranging from Alabama to New Jersey and Ohio, backlash appears to have only increased support for the events. Following the conservative email campaign targeting the events, reports indicate Houston’s Drag Queen Story Hour had its biggest attendance ever.
A Virginia Beach program reportedly filled up so quickly that the library started a waiting list for families who couldn’t get a seat.
Lafayette’s Drag Queen Story Time is scheduled to be held on October 6 at the main branch of the public library. Representatives with the Lafayette Public Library clarified in a statement that the event is not new — it hosts 60 reading events for children between the ages of three to six throughout the city.
Content is vetted to be age appropriate, the library said.
“All story programs for this age group are designed for families to attend together and involve books, songs and craft activities that encourage interaction among the children,” the statement claimed. “The Drag Queen Story Time will share stories of individuality, openness and acceptance with families seeking an opportunity to show their children that every person is unique and should be treated with equal respect.”