When city officials in Texas canceled a drag queen story time event scheduled to take place at a public library, a progressive church in the neighborhood swooped in to make sure it still takes place.
Open Cathedral, an LGBTQ-affirming church in Austin’s suburbs, is renting out a room at the Leander Public Library this Saturday for the reading. Tickets to the event have already sold out online.
Ryan Hart, the church’s lead minister, told HuffPost that his congregation didn’t want families in their community to receive the message from politicians that they are not welcome.
“We want the children of this community to know that they are loved no matter what,” he said.
Similar story time events led by drag queens have occurred in libraries and bookstores across the country. The purpose of these gatherings is to teach kids about gender diversity and self-expression, while instilling in them a love of reading and stories.
The event at Leander Public Library was originally going to be hosted by the library itself, which is run by a company contracted by the city. But in May, Leander city officials and library management staff decided to cancel it. A statement on the city’s website said this happened because the event involved “live entertainment with outside guests” who were not on the Central Texas Library System’s “slate of recommended entertainers.” The city said it made the decision after “receiving input from many citizens and community stakeholders.”
City spokesman Michael Neu told the Austin American-Statesman that part of the reason the event was canceled was that a registered sex offender had read to children during a similar event at a Houston library ― something that likely would have been discovered with a routine background check. A Q&A on the Leander Public Library website related to the cancellation noted that it “does not currently conduct or request background checks of its presenters and guests.”
Leander Mayor Troy Hill said in a statement that the library waded into “social issues water” without approval from the city. He suggested that libraries shouldn’t be places where people wade into “politics, social issues, or divisive discussions.”
“I would be curious if those favoring ‘inclusiveness’ would feel the same had it been storytelling time about the life of Donald Trump, or how those who want it canceled would feel about canceling a story of guns in America,” Hill said in a statement obtained by ABC affiliate KVUE. “We have lost our ability to discuss with respect for opposing views.”
The City of Leander has decided to close the library to the public on Saturday, anticipating that there will be protests for and against the story hour outside the building. Only people who have reserved tickets through Open Cathedral will be allowed inside.
Hart said that his church, part of the mainline Protestant denomination United Church of Christ, has distributed 150 tickets for the event. While church leaders haven’t yet announced who will be performing at the event (they’re currently conducting background checks), they have decided what books will be read.
Children who attend the event will listen to “Love Makes a Family,” a book about how love is what brings families of all sorts together; “Red: A Crayon’s Story,” which is about how a blue crayon mistakenly labeled as red learns to be true to himself; and “And Tango Makes Three,” which tells the tale of two male penguins raising a baby penguin of their own.
Hart said he hopes children who come to the story hour on Saturday will learn that even though they may feel different sometimes, they are loved.
“That is the mission of our church as a whole, to celebrate diversity and community in God, to empower wonder and compassion for all of creation,” Hart said.