CONWAY — Conway Public Library Trustees voted Monday to look into creating a program policy after members of the public expressed concern that an upcoming Drag Queen Story Hour isn’t appropriate for children.
The story hour will be held June 28, from 10:30-11:30 a.m. in the Ham Community Room of the library as part of a gay pride week celebration.
White Mountains Pride, dedicated to promoting inclusion throughout the White Mountains, is holding an inaugural LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) Pride Week and Festival June 23-29.
The event will culminate with a daylong festival in North Conway filled with activities for all.
Library Trustees Chairman Peter Innes said after hearing from a number of people who became concerned about the event, “the board voted to form a small committee to review the process by which programs are selected and the extent to which presenters are screened before a decision is made to run the program.
“This stemmed from a public concern about safety during library programs. The committee will review these processes in order to determine if any changes are necessary.”
Innes said the committee “will include members of the library staff who will then present their findings to the trustees at a later board meeting.”
The vote was unanimous.
The trustees’ next meeting is scheduled for June 17, but the agenda had not been set as of Tuesday, said Library Director David Smolen, and the issue of crafting a new policy may or may not come up.
Smolen said in cases such as this, some trustees would get together and work on a draft and then present it to the full board.
“It takes time to adopt policies,” said Smolen. “That’s perfectly normal.”
He said there’s been no policy about story readers before, and no one has had a problem before now.
At Monday’s meeting, Smolen characterized Drag Queen Story Hour as people in costume and make-up reading stories to children.
“Those stories are from books that are in the library and in libraries across the United States,” said Smolen. “The themes that these books include are very positive themes.”
Members of the board of trustees expressed support for the event.
But a couple of people in the audience suggested that perhaps Drag Queen Story Hour should be for listeners over 21. Some feared what the event would teach impressionable children.
Parts of the meeting were raucous, particularly when trustee Hans Hildebrand compared the atmosphere in the country to that of Nazi-era Germany. He also said that bigots and racists felt validated by the election of Donald Trump.
Hildebrand said if there’s something going on at the library that he didn’t approve of, he simply wouldn’t allow his daughter to go rather than trying to crush others’ ability to have a program.
“Censorship is a dangerous thing,” said Hildebrand.
Among those concerned about the Drag Queen Story Hour was Nella Thompson of Eaton. Thompson said she has friends who are gay and transgender and while that’s not an issue for her, “My issue is I have a 4-year-old son and doing some research on other drag queen story hours that have taken place throughout the country, you mentioned have been scrutinized more than most of your story times here at the library,” said Thompson.
“My question is are you aware of the two pedophiles in Texas? What have you done to ensure the safety of our children?” she asked the trustees.
Smolen replied that parents will be there with their children.
“This is the most scrutinized program we have ever had,” said Smolen, adding that the readers have been vouched for by Drag Queen Story Hour organizers.
He added: “We have no policy of running background checks.”
Though Smolen said he was aware of issues in Texas, he said there have been many story hours across the country.
Conway resident Eddie Bennett, a self-described drag queen, said drag is a form of art in which men impersonate women. He said they are nothing more than another character that children could encounter at Disney World.
Christopher Bellis, who is co-chair of White Mountains Pride, said that Drag Queen Story Hour is about promoting tolerance.
“If you don’t want your children there, don’t bring them, but do not say that this library can’t host an event like that,” said Bennett, adding he wouldn’t censor groups that he doesn’t like.