A majority of speakers at Monday evening’s FVRLibraries’ board of trustees meeting in downtown Vancouver expressed support for Drag Queen Story Hour and similar diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
The meeting was the first since a Dec. 6 article in The Columbian catalogued three years of protests in opposition to a series of Drag Queen Story Hours held at the Vancouver Community Library in 2019.
Last month, board Chair Jane Higgins reinstated public comment on the topic, which she temporarily halted in October, saying that the comments were growing hostile and increasingly unrelated to library operations. Monday was also Higgins’ last meeting as board chair; she has served on the board for 14 years.
Each of the more than two dozen speakers during the meeting’s public comment section addressed and focused on the topic — with supporters highlighting how they felt the events validated and supported the LGBTQIA+ community. Many went a step further to urge the board to bring back the events, adding that by not holding any since 2019, the library was not abiding by its own equity policy and was instead appeasing the protest group.
“This is the most support I’ve seen at a meeting like this; it’s absolutely more support than I was expecting,” said Esmeralda Garcia, one of the speakers Monday night. Garcia’s testimony touched on how in her role as a contracted guidance counselor in Vancouver Public Schools, she has seen first-hand how LGBTQIA+ students struggle with mental health as a result of intolerance to their identity in their community.
“When you take away positive representation, that representation ends up being Jerry Springer and the Maury show, which leads to hate,” Garcia said in her testimony. “Otherwise, I’m the one listening to your kids. I’m hearing their last words, I’m taking them home when they tell me they don’t know if they can make it home safe.”
Other speakers echoed Garcia’s sentiments, recalling how the library has the ability to serve as a sanctuary for children and adults alike by providing diverse representation in stories and authors.
Though outnumbered, protestors of Drag Queen Story Hour also spoke.
Gary Wilson, who has led protests since 2019, was not present for Monday’s meeting but provided a written statement that was read aloud by another speaker. In the statement, Wilson claimed without proof that it was a “fact” that Drag Queens and transgender individuals come from a community of sexual abusers. A handful of supporters concurred with Wilson’s sentiments, adding they had “ample evidence” that the transgender community was harming children. However, no proof was offered.
Jamie Bair, a FVRLibraries employee and former librarian, said, “I do my best to allay people’s fears and remind them that it’s a safe space and encourage people to come into the library and see it for themselves, but there’s just so much fear and trepidation… that I felt it’s actually important to come out and speak.”
“I have (a role) as a library employee, but I also think it’s important to speak as a community member in supporting the work we do and just letting the board know that I value what it is we’re trying to do and that it’s hard work, but we need to keep doing it,” Bair said.
Though Bair hopes conversations about the library eventually move away from debating Drag Queen Story Hour to focusing on current initiatives and outreach work librarians are doing, Bair is encouraged by an increased pushback to the years of protest.
“The silent majority of people who actually support what we’re doing — it’s great to see them come out,” Bair said.
Gary Wilson statement: Gary Wilson, a newly elected member of the Evergreen Public Schools Board of Directors, disputes the accuracy of a quotation attributed to a statement read on his behalf at a December 2022 Fort Vancouver Regional Library District board meeting, as reported by The Columbian on Dec. 21, 2022. The Columbian reported that Wilson’s statement asserted “it was a ‘fact’ that drag queens and transgender individuals come from a community of sexual abusers.” Wilson subsequently denied that he holds this view and denied that the statement read on his behalf made this assertion. Although no recording of the December 2022 library board meeting exists, Wilson’s written statement submitted at that time says that “drag queens come from a highly sexualized culture” and that “drag queen story hour performers have been found to be convicted sex offenders.’” Wilson’s statement, as reported by The Columbian on December 21, 2022, was referred to again in an editorial published Oct. 14, 2023 and a news story published Oct. 24, 2023. Neither of those articles said that the original source of the information was a statement read on Wilson’s behalf or that Wilson had disputed The Columbian’s reporting.