In a development that's raising even more alarms among concerned community members about the controversial "Drag Queen Storytime" programs that have become increasingly widespread in public libraries, the Houston Public Library was forced to admit last week that they allowed a registered child sex offender to participate in its drag queen reading program for children.
After an advocacy group concerned about the implication of drag queens reading to children uncovered the criminal record of one of the participants in Houston's program, the public library has pulled the sex offender and issued an apology — but critics are demanding stronger action.
Houston news channel KHOU 11 broke the story after being contacted by the group, Mass Resistance, which has been working to shut down the program which it deems potentially damaging to children (h/t Karen Townshend).
"Mass Resistance claims it had been asking the City of Houston for months to disclose information about the drag queens, and when requests went unanswered, they did their own digging and made the shocking link," KHOU reports.
The outlet reached out to the library and a media spokesperson confirmed that Mass Resistance was correct: Alberto Garza, 32, who goes by the drag name "Tatiana Mala Nina," was convicted in 2008 of assaulting an 8-year-old boy, yet he was allowed to read to children dressed in drag. Below is a mugshot of Garza and his conviction record:
In an official apology, Houston Public Library admitted that it had simply failed to perform a background check on Garza. The library said it "deeply regrets" performing this essential safety check but attempted to downplay the risk this put children in by stressing that the program is supervised by library staff. The library also did not mention any disciplinary action it might take as a result of the egregious mistake.
"We were made aware today that one participant for Drag Queen storytime who read at the September 29, 2018, Drag Queen Storytime has a criminal background that should have prevented him from participating in the program," the library said in a statement published by KHOU. "We assure you that this participant will not be involved in any future HPL programs."
"In our review of our process and of this participant, we discovered that we failed to complete a background check as required by our own guidelines," the statement continued. "We deeply regret this oversight and the concern this may cause our customers. We realize this is a serious matter."
Then the library attempted to downplay the risk Garza posed to children: "Every program sponsored by HPL is supervised by HPL staff, and all children are accompanied by a parent and/or guardian. No participant is ever alone with children, and we have not received any complaints about any inappropriate behavior by participants at storytimes."
The library concluded by vowing to make sure all future participants are checked as Garza should have been: "We are taking the appropriate action to ensure that the status of every participant in every program throughout our system is verified. We will continue to review our process to ensure that this cannot happen again. Once again, we apologize for our failure to adhere to our own process in this matter and to the hundreds of parents and caregivers who have enjoyed this program with their children."
But as KHOU reports, protesters are demanding far more than the library's public apology — they want employees held accountable.
This is not the first time Houston's drag queen kids program has made news. The library system was sued back in October for favoring "secular humanism," which plaintiffs said is a violation of the First Amendment's religious establishment clause, the outlet notes. The suit was tossed out in January. Here's KHOU's report on the suit: