The first annual Drag Queen Storytime event at the Red Deer Public Library was a success on June 21, but organizers faced some emailed backlash. (Contributed photo).

The first annual Drag Queen Storytime event at the Red Deer Public Library was a success on June 21, but organizers faced some emailed backlash. (Contributed photo).

Drag Queen Storytime at Red Deer public library draws praise — and backlash

Hateful emails reinforce the importance of inclusive programming, says CEO

The first-ever family-oriented Drag Queen Storytime at the Red Deer Public Library went off without a hitch — but not without a public backlash campaign.

Shelley Ross, the library’s CEO, said she received about 25 hateful emails about the June 21 event, mostly through the library website’s contact form.

Since the comments used very similar wording — expressing how the drag Storytime was “promoting” an LGBTQ lifestyle and “grooming” children, Ross believes certain conservative groups initiated a campaign.

This reinforces how important it is for the library to keep planning programs around inclusion and diversity, she added. Hosting a drag event “is a concrete demonstration of our commitment to create a safe and welcoming space for all” — including library staff members who identify as a member of these groups.

Although it’s the first time such an event was held at the Red Deer library, many other Canadian libraries have been doing it for years — and have faced similar hate campaigns.

Some have even had disruptive protesters shouting angry slurs and profanities.

Ross is glad the Red Deer Pride Party Storytime event could proceed last week, with support from the Red Deer Queer Community Association, without any such turmoil.

Lilliana Starlight read Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn, by Shannon Hale, about a kitten who is picked on until a friend helps her embrace who she is, and This Day in June, by Gayle Pitman, set during a Pride celebration. The kids goofed around.

While there were no protesters among the 50 participants, ranging from pre-schoolers to teens and parents, “we faced some pretty ugly comments” in emails, said Ross.

One individual wrote of being “disgusted and outraged at the poisoning of our children’s minds at your hands.”

Ross said, “Just imagine what this marginalized group sees from these people on a regular basis.” She said the library will keep supporting “our 2SLGBTQ+ patrons, friends, family and community as much as we can.”

Most negative emails were not from Red Deer, but from Blackfalds, Sylvan Lake and smaller communities in the region. Regular Red Deer Public Library users raised no objections when the event, which was aimed at kids age four to eight, was publicized for weeks in the library newsletter, said Ross.

“Library patrons have an advantage. By reading, they are able to walk in other people’s shoes and so have a greater understanding that everyone is different, everyone is special, and it’s not our business to tell people what they can or can’t do, or what they can or can’t watch.”

She considers the campaign a form of attempted censorship. Her response is that people who don’t like an event can stay home. Since young children can’t get to the library by themselves, their attendance indicates their parents want them to be there, she added.

Among the positive comments received after the Storytime event is: ”We had a great time” (from the parents of a toddler and school-aged child), and “Such a fabulous Storytime tonight — so glad to have been there. I might have shed a tear or two of happiness and joy,” from an adult attendee.

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