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Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Sept. 27, 2023

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In Our View: Don’t like drag queen events? Then don’t go

The Columbian

The solution seems simple: If you are offended by a performer, usually a man, dressed in flamboyant women’s clothing and reading books to children, then don’t attend.

But nothing is simple in our age of online outrage, misinformation and performative politics. So it is not surprising that a group of local residents routinely protest “drag queen story hour” at the Vancouver Community Library — even though no such event has been held there since 2019.

As detailed in an article by Columbian reporter Griffin Reilly, “For over three years, the monthly Fort Vancouver Regional Library Board of Trustees’ meetings have spiraled out of control.”

Jane Higgins, chair of the Board of Trustees, said: “Lately it’s gotten increasingly hostile, volatile — demanding is probably the best word. We’re losing sight of the fact that we are conducting a business meeting; this is the only time each month we’re all together.”

Higgins added: “We used to have people who would come on a variety of topics during public comment. But now more and more of them are saying that they’d love to come talk to us about this or that but that they aren’t comfortable with the mob in the hallways.”

Throughout the country, “mob” has become the appropriate nomenclature for protesters of drag queen story hours.

On Saturday, a planned event at a church in Columbus, Ohio, was canceled after protesters showed up, several in military garb and carrying long guns. On Tuesday, a group that organizes story hours in Kentucky put future events on hold because of security concerns. Protests have occurred elsewhere, with people in drag becoming the latest pawn in the culture wars.

Typically, protesters say that drag queen story hours sexualize children, that men in drag are pedophiles who are “grooming” children, and that the events are “sending kids down a path” to self-harm and suicide. The claims are hateful and unfounded, and they ignore the fact that men dressing as women is as old as the theater itself. They also ignore the fact that more explicit sexuality can be seen on network TV.

As one family therapist told the Associated Press, “Many parents are OK with children dressing as assassins, evil villains or grim reapers, yet they seldom take the costume choice to mean anything more than playful and fun.”

At their most extreme, such accusations pose a genuine threat. The Department of Homeland Security last week issued a warning about domestic terrorism threats against marginalized groups, including the LGBTQ+ community. In November, a shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., killed five people and wounded 19 others.

In 2019, FVRLibraries hosted more than 2,300 storytime sessions across its 15 locations. Three of those featured performers in drag, with the events financially supported by Friends of the Vancouver Community Library rather than taxpayers. “We got overwhelmingly positive feedback; we even turned people away because (the auditorium) was so full,” Executive Director Amelia Shelley told The Columbian.

Yet transgender people have become the latest target of the far-right outrage machine, leading to local protests against something that happened three years ago. It is a small-minded response to events that were attended voluntarily, and it contradicts the love of individual freedom that people on the far right claim to hold dear.

Such hypocrisy seems to be unnecessary sound and fury when a more mature approach is obvious: If local libraries resume drag queen story hour, you don’t have to attend.