A small New York town of roughly 16,000 people has rebuffed their local library, which had planned to host a Drag Queen Story Hour event on February 8.
Robin Janovich and Tom McDermott of The Rye Record saw an announcement about the program at the Rye Free Reading Room (RFRR) in late January. Janovich wrote that seeing the announcement “stopped us in our editing tracks: Drag Queen Story Hour. For ages 3-8. ‘Families can celebrate difference, learn empathy, and create crafts…Kids are encouraged to celebrate diversity while building confidence in self-expression.’”
Janovich continued, “My first thought was: ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore, or in traditional library land for that matter.” But I refrained from comment because I’m an AARP member and a grandmother and maybe I’m not that edgy Manhattan sophisticate I was in my youth.’”
Some questions arose: “Are families likely to bring their young children to a program that uses drag queens to focus on inclusivity? Why are we foisting conversations on inclusivity on children that young? Are we replacing bedtime stories, which take children out of themselves and out into other, far more interesting worlds, with discussions of sexual differences when they are innocent sponges?”
Janovich continued that members of the community were also disturbed by the announcement, prompting Janovich and McDermott to attempt to contact RFRR Director Chris Shoemaker, whom she noted was out of town for the weekend.
One young grandmother in the community told Janovich that she had met with Shoemaker, then stated:
But I’ve had a few days to consider all the community feedback, talk with my children (who said they’d skip it), their friends, my friends, and I still believe that this program is inappropriate — and misguided. Children need to experience diversity, not have it thrown in their face. And if we’re going to present a complex issue like this, the audience members should be much older than 8 and the presenter should be an expert on sexual preference … This is not a child’s play dress-up topic to be presented to 3- to 8-year-olds and confuse their developing sense of self.
Later that afternoon, Janovich stated, Drag Queen Story Hour was “deferred.” She added, “Why deferred and not cancelled altogether was the resounding community response.”
Janovich said Shoemaker admitted that he had received numerous emails from Rye residents voicing their disapproval of the event, but added, “But nearly all of those emails were anonymous, so I couldn’t respond to them individually. They were form letters asking that the library be neutral in its viewpoints and not create an unwelcome environment … After looking at all the feedback and considering whether we should be using an adult performer to spread this message, I decided the library should pause and refocus on engaging different educators.”
A petition was created to get the library to reinstitute the program; the petition cited the local residents’ “ignorance,” stating:
Unfortunately, DQSH has been interpreted as threatening by a small but vocal group of citizens, who, in their ignorance, have taken a children’s event about gender identity, inclusiveness, and acceptance and conflated it with sexual identity, sex work, and pedophilia. Protests have been occurring behind closed doors – through scripted statements and anonymous petitions.
The City of Rye’s Human Rights Commission stated:
Drag Queen Story Hour is an opportunity for children to be exposed to different forms of beauty and performance. It can also help to dispel stigma and stereotypes that are so often, unfortunately and inaccurately, projected onto LGBTQ youth. The program gives children, their families and caregivers positive role models who break gender stereotypes and encourage children to be exactly who they want to be. We look forward to the Rye Free Reading Room’s reinstatement of this event.