Drag Queens and other demonstrators in Missouri, U.S. have been protesting against the introduction of a bill that will prevent libraries from hosting Drag Queen Story Time events. The popular library event, drag queen storytime is emulated across the world with drag queens and drag artists reading children’s stories in libraries, with an aim to show inclusivity and encourage gender expression and creativity in children. The proposed new bill will not only bring an unfortunate end to any events of this kind but may result in fines and jail time for drag performers and librarians alike.
Sister Glamourama Ding Dong, one of the demonstrators said, “I’m here because we, as Missourians, do not condone, this situation of censorship. We believe in Drag Queen Story Time, we believe in the freedom of choice and the freedom to read what we want to read and to let our imaginations soar.”
The bill, known as the “Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act,” was introduced at the beginning of 2020 by Republican State Representative, Ben Baker. Baker said, “I want to be able to take my kids to a library and make sure they’re in a safe environment, and then they’re not gonna be exposed to something that is objectionable material.” Baker also added that it was Drag Queen Story Hour that caused him to draft the bill.
Baker said, “What inspired this bill is becoming aware of what is taking place at our publicly funded libraries with events like Drag Queen Story Hour, and materials that have a clear agenda of grooming our children for the L.G.B.T.Q. community with adult themes and content that fit the description of a objectionable sexual nature.”
The Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act has drawn a lot of criticism from library and freedom-of-speech groups in particular because of the way it would impact the LGBTQIA+ community and families.
Ann Bingham – demonstrator explained: “The prospect of librarians facing jail time or fines, misdemeanours because kids are getting material that is not age appropriate is really problematic. You’re looking at a group of people who are not educators or librarians making that determination.”
The bill proposes that libraries in Missouri must create a parental review panel who would evaluate whether content provided by the library is “age-inappropriate sexual material.” These panel would be made up, not on library staff whose knowledge in the matter is part of their job, but by five local residents.
“This is the first time we have ever seen a bill that proposes a body elected from a community meeting that would be able to override the decisions of an appointed library board or duly elected library board,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom,” We were, of course, dismayed and unhappy to see a bill that would essentially put librarians in jail for sharing materials that are constitutionally protected and age appropriate except in the eyes of five people.”
Under this newly proposed bill, libraries could lose their state funding if they fail to comply and a library employee who “willfully neglects or refuses to perform any duty” of this legislation could face a misdemeanour charge and, if convicted, they could be fined up to $500 and/or sentenced up to a year in jail.
In recent years, many libraries in the United States have seen banning or censorship of LGBTQIA+ children’s and YA books, and protests against Drag Queen Story Time. What’s more, Missouri also has other proposed bills that attack the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community by deny LGBT+ couples adoption rights and penalising trans gender youth.
Sister Glamourama Ding Dong stated, “I love reading stories. I was read to as a little one, and I love reading to children. It’s actually probably one of the most wholesome things you could possibly do.”
While Ann Bingham added, “Those entertainers are really dressing as characters for children. So, they get to make believe, they get to dress up. It’s very much like dressing as a superhero or dressing as Ariel or Elsa.”
Counter-protestors were also seen at the site of the demonstration against this new bill. However, they did not stay long after the orginal group of protestors showed nothing but kindness and politeness back to them.
Christina King – demonstrator told Now This, “I came out because I think it’s very important that we as community members always stand up and support each other, especially in this climate now, we really, really need to stick together. We need to fight legislation and legislators who are trying to take our rights away.”
While Venus Victrola, one of the protest co-organisers, ended their peaceful demonstration with some powerful words: “I just want to thank you so much. And I just wanna say that I love my community, loves wins every time and we are stronger together.”
The National Coalition Against Censorship covered the attempts to ban public libraries from hosting Drag Queen Story Hours in Minnesota, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Missouri. They stated, “Bans on Drag Queen Story Hour are unconstitutional because they violate First Amendment protections of freedom of speech, and they discriminate against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation.”
They also added that, “The bans also violate the Fourteenth Amendment, because they specifically target events due to the sexual identity of the speakers. The US Supreme Court ruled almost 25 years ago that laws motivated by hostility to LGBTQ people, or any other group, violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
NCAC ended their article by stating, “Whether or not these bills become law, efforts to ban Drag Queen Story Hour can and very likely are creating a chilling effect on librarians and administrators who are considering whether to host Drag Queen Story Hour and similar LGBTQ-themed events by creating an environment of fear of losing their funding or facing threats by legislators.”