Despite Protests, Leander's Drag Queen Story Hour Will Go On

Local church saves event

Image via Library Services and Systems

The Leander Public Library will be closed to the public on Saturday, June 15, in the ongoing controversy surrounding a Drag Queen Story Hour event. As planned, Leander's Open Cathedral Church will continue to host the event after the city canceled the original Story Hour as planned by the library.

Leander spokesperson Mike Neu said the closure is intended to reduce conflict among patrons who are unaware of the event and to increase space within the main library. Neu also confirmed the city has heard about potential protesters, but said he does not know how many people plan to attend the event or the groups protesters could be affiliated with.

Police and city staff will be in attendance to help event participants get in and out of the library, and the city has also designated an area outside the building for peaceful demonstrations. Though Leander normally requires permits for protests, an exception is being made since the city is providing the space and does not know how many people will attend, said Neu.

Open Cathedral decided to rent the library space to let everyone know that they are welcome in Leander and they're still loved even if they feel different, Ryan Hart, lead minister for Open Cathedral Church, told the Chronicle. Saturday's event will feature a local drag queen reading children's books about being different, as well as various organizations including the church, PFLAG, and an all-inclusive scouting organization. Due to the overwhelming response on the Facebook event page, the church decided to make the event ticketed. Of the 150 seats available, all have been reserved.

Neu previously confirmed the city's cancellation of both the drag story time and Summer Superhero Saturday, due to the lack of a screening process; the events' performers, he said, were not included in the library system's list of recommended entertainers. Drag Queen Story Hour is a New York-based nonprofit with 40 chapters worldwide that organizes children's storytime events with drag performers around the country, according to its website. Neu says the city was concerned about the emotional nature of topics related to the drag event; he referenced a similar event at a Houston library where staff were unaware that a registered sex offender was performing in front of children.

Employees of Library Systems and Services, the company that contracts with the city to operate the Leander library, oversee the programming, but the city has final oversight and can change programming at any time, said Neu. Since receiving hundreds of calls from people about the event, Neu said the city is running a survey until the end of June on its website for Leander residents to comment on future library activities. The city is also conducting a review with assistance from the Central Texas Library System (part of the state's network of support centers for public libraries), of how it provides activities and programming at the library, which will include input from the survey.

"We want to make sure the city and library are working together and that we're all on the same page" regarding the public services and programming provided, said Neu, adding: "We want to be fair and equitable to everyone that comes to the library, no matter who they are or what service they're providing, and assure that we're providing a welcoming, safe, and fun environment for the general public."

In a now-deleted statement on his Facebook page, Leander Mayor Troy Hill said the library had chosen to wade into social issues without approval from city staff, which led to predictable outrage and divisiveness. Hill proposed that schools, music venues, churches, and libraries should be designated as areas where people don't wade into politics, social issues, or divisive discussions. "I would be curious if those favoring 'inclusiveness' would feel the same had it been storytelling time about the life of Donald Trump, or how those who want it canceled would feel about canceling a story of guns in America," Hill said. "We have lost our ability to discuss with respect for opposing views."

Hart, however, said the cancellation sent a message that some people aren't welcome. "We believe that faith is about what Jesus says – loving God and loving our neighbor. Oftentimes that neighbor is very, very different from us and feels very, very different from us, but we're a community of faith that says whoever you are and wherever you are on life's journey, you're welcome here."

LGBTQ advocate and former Austin City Council candidate Danielle Skidmore told the Chronicle that while she doesn't usually drive to Leander, she plans to attend the event with her son Peter to show solidarity for her community and storytelling for children. As she sees it, "Exposing children to the beautiful diversity of our humanity is probably one of the biggest gifts we can give ourselves. All the children that I know ... have no trouble processing who they are. And so the idea that somehow a child being introduced to a drag queen is going to traumatize them or somehow be inappropriate for them is baseless."

Drag Queen Story Hour is Sat., June 15, 3pm at Leander Public Library, 1011 S. Bagdad Rd., Leander.

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Austin LGBTQ, Drag Story Time, Drag Queen Story Hour, Mike Neu, Ryan Hart, Open Cathedral Church, PFLAG, Library Systems and Services, Leander Public Library, Danielle Skidmore

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