Chicago-Area Library Cancels Drag Queen Bingo For Teens After Threats

The Downers Grove Public Library said it will continue to find inclusive programming for teens and insisted that “hate did not win today.”
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A Chicago-area library said it has been forced to cancel an upcoming drag queen bingo for teenagers due to threats over the event.

The Downers Grove Public Library announced its decision Monday in a statement on Facebook but assured the public that “hate did not win today” and that it is working to find additional ways to provide inclusive programming to local teens as law enforcement authorities investigate the threats.

“Providing an inclusive, welcoming, and safe space for everyone in the Downers Grove community is of the utmost importance to the library,” it said. “We are disappointed and saddened by some of the vitriolic feedback that we received for what was meant to be an evening of fun and celebration of self-identity and self-expression.”

The library declined further comment on the matter due to the ongoing investigation.

The library’s staff received aggressive emails and threats from conservative-leaning residents after announcing the drag queen event last month, the Chicago Tribune reported. One Facebook post urged people to “bring weapons” to the library, the Daily Herald reported, citing police reports.

The Oct. 11 event, which had a wait list due to its popularity, was geared toward seventh-12th graders and was going to feature bingo games and a lip-sync performance of Katy Perry’s song “Firework,” the library’s director told the Herald.

The event was quickly met with anger, however.

Drag performer Champagne Monroe reads a children's book titled "Rainbow Fish" to a group of kids and parents at the Mobile Public Library in Mobile, Alabama, in 2018.
Drag performer Champagne Monroe reads a children's book titled "Rainbow Fish" to a group of kids and parents at the Mobile Public Library in Mobile, Alabama, in 2018.
Dan Anderson via AP

The far-right organization Awake Illinois issued a “call of action” in response to the event. Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau, who’s also the Republican congressional nominee in Illinois’ 6th District, helped spearhead criticism of the event, which he used as a campaign fundraiser on social media.

“It is a drag show, and it has no place for seventh grade or 12th grade,” he said in a radio interview last month.

Pekau said he’d never seen a drag show but knew enough to decide that it was inappropriate.

“This is an adult theme. It does not belong in front of children and frankly shouldn’t be paid for by the public library,” he said.

It was later reported that an anonymous donor would be covering the $125 cost of the event.

Drag queen "Pickle" reads to kids at the West Valley Regional Branch Library in Los Angeles in 2019.
Drag queen "Pickle" reads to kids at the West Valley Regional Branch Library in Los Angeles in 2019.
David McNew via Getty Images

Rep. Sean Casten (D), who is running against Pekau to keep his seat in November’s general election, blamed Pekau and Awake Illinois for the threats of violence against the library.

“They should be ashamed of themselves. They have used their platform to promote hatred, homophobia, and bigotry,” he said in a statement Monday. “Hate has no home here. The fact that Keith Pekau disagrees shows he has no place in public office.”

Pekau did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Awake Illinois celebrated the event’s cancellation on social media, calling it “a victory for the protection of all children.”

“Your respectful voices were heard. Children should never be exploited. Thank you for advocating,” the organization tweeted.

A parent walks their child past protesters and into the Mobile Public Library for drag queen storytime in 2018.
A parent walks their child past protesters and into the Mobile Public Library for drag queen storytime in 2018.
Dan Anderson via AP

Drag and other pro-LGBTQ events tailored for children have been interrupted across the country in recent months, particularly during Pride Month in June.

A group of men was being investigated for a possible hate crime in the San Francisco area after the men allegedly shouted homophobic and anti-LGBTQ slurs during a drag queen story hour for preschool-aged children held in celebration of Pride Month.

Law enforcement officers were called to a Wilmington, North Carolina library, also in June, after protesters showed up to a Pride storytime event and allegedly started shouting at parents and children, telling them that they were going to hell, witnesses told local media.

Jamie Rogers Southern, whose drag queen story hour in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was also protested in June, said that most people who called her organization to complain were badly confused about drag shows.

“A lot of it is unfortunately misguided and ill-informed statements about how drag queens were pornography or a strip show,” she previously told HuffPost. Those opposed to the program also believed that kids could “become” transgender just from looking at a drag queen, she said.

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