Drag Queen Story Hour coming to a Columbus library, sparking controversy

Looking back: A few protestors hold signs outside Drag Queen Storytime event

Colgay PRIDE sponsored Drag Queen Storytime at the Mildred L. Terry Library Saturday that drew a few protestors outside along Veterans Parkway
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Colgay PRIDE sponsored Drag Queen Storytime at the Mildred L. Terry Library Saturday that drew a few protestors outside along Veterans Parkway

A controversial event is coming to a Columbus this weekend.

The Drag Queen Story Hour is a national program created in San Francisco to promote gender diversity. Critics question whether this is appropriate for a public library.

The event, sponsored by the local LGBT advocacy group ColGay Pride, is scheduled to start at noon Saturday in the Mildred L. Terry Public Library, 640 Veterans Parkway.

A few months ago, Brian Hopkins, a 2018 graduate of Hardaway High School, saw a Drag Queen Story Hour video online and asked ColGay Pride director Jeremy Hobbs whether they could conduct such an event in Columbus.

Hobbs agreed — and Hopkins, whose drag name is Monica Starr, will be the story hour’s reader.

The Drag Queen Story Hour website says its program “captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive and unabashedly queer role models. In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where people can present as they wish, where dress up is real.”

Hobbs and Hopkins told the Ledger-Enquirer in phone interviews Wednesday that they won’t be recruiting children to join their lifestyle.

“All we’re trying to do is to get these kids to know that they can be loved just by being who they are,” said Hopkins, who is applying to study cosmetology at Columbus Technical College. “In high school, I said I wanted to be a drag queen, and here I am a year later. I never thought this would happen in the South.”

Hobbs put it this way: “We’re not going to ask, ‘Who wants to grow up to be a drag queen?’ We want them to look to their left and to their right and realize that, just because people are different, we don’t treat them differently. This whole thing is about acceptance. … We’re not trying to turn your kids gay. We just want everyone to walk away with a little more love in their heart for their neighbors.”

Hopkins said he chose “A Tale of Two Beasts” by Fiona Robertson as the book he will read to the children because “it shows we should listen to both sides before we make a decision.”

A discussion will follow.

“We will tell people why we love one another,” Hobbs said. “We will not go into details about sexuality, just the details about not everyone being the same, just teaching love and diversity and acceptance.”

The free event also will include music and songs, such as “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” just for fun, Hopkins said, as well as refreshments.

Via phone and social media, Hobbs and Hopkins have received mixed reaction about bringing the Drag Queen Story Hour to Columbus.

“The first person who called me about this works for the city, and he cussed me out,” Hobbs said. “I called the mayor (Teresa Tomlinson), and the next day, he called me back and begged for forgiveness. Then we had a good discussion. So if people come with an open mind, not a set mind, we can do anything.”

Out of 200 people who participated in ColGay Pride’s online poll, 88 percent support this event, Hopkins said.

“Seeing the outpouring of love from the community has been amazing,” he said, “but we do have some people who don’t like it. … They’re taking it the wrong way. They’re thinking kids (who attend) are going to turn out gay and that it’s against Christianity.”

Mary Sue Polleys, former chairwoman of the Muscogee County School Board, which owns and operates the city’s semi-autonomous public libraries, questioned on her Facebook page whether this event “is an appropriate program for little children in the public library. … Most people I know want to live and let live, but why has the public library become part of an activist agenda with this controversial subject?”

Columbus blogger Hal Kirven wrote, “This is not about acceptance of lifestyle alternatives, this is about promoting deception to children … little or no different from offering free candy if a child will get into a van with a stranger. I’d have no issue with a gay or lesbian presenting themselves in everyday attire sincerely participating in a story hour, but the emphasis on this event is ‘DRAG QUEEN’ … and every member of the MCSB should sound off on stopping such.

“Furthermore … how is this any different than letting cigarette companies use cartoon characters such as ‘Joe Camel’ or Fred Flintstone to make smoking attractive to children?”

The Ledger-Enquirer sought reaction Wednesday from library and school board officials.

Alan Harkness, director of Chattahoochee Valley Libraries, which includes Muscogee County, said via email that the Drag Queen Story Hour isn’t a library program. The library is being used as the event’s site because Hopkins followed CVL’s guidelines — as did around 2,300 other community groups last year — to reserve one of the meeting rooms, which are “available as a public service, without regard to beliefs, race, or group affiliation,” Harkness said.

“The Chattahoochee Valley Libraries exist for all members of the community,” he said. “The Customer Code of Conduct ensures consistent behavior for all library users.”

CVL staff “routinely have to deny folks” who try to reserve a meeting room more than once per month, Harkness said, “as the number of rooms we have across the system cannot accommodate the number of repeat requests.” But during his five years as CVL director, he said, the only time he didn’t allow use of a meeting room because of who made the request was when that person previously damaged a meeting room.

Asked how many complaints CVL has received about this event, Harkness said, “I don’t have an exact number, but we have received complaints. Our staff is being proactive in responding to the inquiries in a timely manner — most within an hour of their call.”

Muscogee County Library Board chairwoman Marion Scott told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email, “I support the library’s facility use policy. The library is a public institution, and we do not discriminate. The community space is available to all groups who meet the policy criteria.”

The only school board members who have responded to the L-E’s query about this event are Vanessa Jackson of District 3 and Frank Myers of District 8.

“The library is a public building,” Jackson wrote in an email. “We have to be clear not to set ourselves up for a discrimination lawsuit.”

“The present policy allows the use of this public space by pretty much any person or group,” Myers wrote in an email. “Access cannot be denied simply on the basis of whether one agrees with the viewpoints or content advocated by any particular person or group. This is yet another non-issue that is distracting from the fact that our school system is trapped in the bottom third in state rankings.”

The Drag Queen Story Hour expresses a basic philosophy, Hobbs said: “We’re not born with hate; we learn hate. And it all starts at home.”

For those concerned about the event, Hobbs said, he encourages them to attend “to see for yourself and make up your own mind. Then I guarantee you’ll want to bring your kids to the next one.”

That’s right. Hobbs said ColGay Pride plans to conduct a Drag Queen Story Hour every month at various local libraries.

Also on Saturday, at 7 p.m., ColGay Pride will conduct another inaugural event in Columbus: the LGBT Block Party, in the 1100 block of Broadway.

Colgay PRIDE of Columbus hosted a local observance of the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Sunday evening at Lake Oliver Marina to remember those who have died from AIDS and to raise social consciousness about HIV and AIDS. Here's a short v

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE