MONTPELIER — Library and city officials have defended a “Drag Queen Story Hour” program for children at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library on July 13.
The hour-long program, at 10:30 a.m., returns after a packed inaugural performance last year by two well-known Vermont drag queens, which was attended by 85 children, parents and community members.
But the program has come under fire in an email to City Councilor Jack McCullough complaining that the program was inappropriate and asking for it to be cancelled. When informed about the email, library officials said they reached out to the complainant to assuage her concerns. Officials said the show would go on, based on the overwhelmingly positive response last year’s program, and added that parents and family members who might have concerns should contact the library.
The DQSH program will feature Burlington drag queens Emoji Nightmare and Nikki Champagne, reading two or three popular children’s picture books, interspersed with simple songs and movement activities. Children are then asked to participate in a craft activity, such as decorating wands and crowns, and parents and guardians may choose to take pictures of their children with a drag queen. The event ends with a dance party.
The program was started in San Francisco by Michelle Tea and RADAR Productions, and has chapters all over the world, according to the organization’s website. Most DQSH events take place in public libraries, local bookstores, children’s museums, public and private schools, and other community organizations and spaces, the website added.
In her email, Jasmine Blunt-Rock, of Montpelier, said she was “profoundly disturbed” that the library was hosting the event and asked that it be cancelled.
“As a member of the community, a mother, and a professional trained in early childhood development, I find this extremely concerning,” Blunt-Rock wrote. “To be honest, I was shocked and appalled to learn this was to be allowed to take place in our community.
“The persona of a drag queen is explicitly sexual in nature; (I am not trying to tell consenting adults how to live their lives) but young children should not be exposed to blatant sexuality! As a professional with nearly 20 years of child rearing experience, I know that young children are extremely aware of gender roles and this kind of indoctrination confuses and frightens impressionable children,” she wrote.
Blunt-Rock said there were many age-appropriate children’s books that teach tolerance without exposing children to “sexually explicit and offensive caricatures of women.”
Blunt-Rock also referenced concerns about a DQSH event in the Houston Texas Public Library System, where two drag queens were found to be registered sex offenders.
“It is irresponsible of public leaders and community organizations such as public libraries, which are charged with guiding young people, to espouse confusing, novelty ideologies that can have tragic, long-lasting results for our most valuable resource, our children,” Blunt-Rock wrote.
McCullough said he “thoroughly” disagreed with Blunt-Rock’s views on the DQSH program.
In an email response, McCullough said the Kellogg-Hubbard Library is a nonprofit and the city had no control over its operations or programs.
“It would be inimical to all the values of our free society and our constitutional system of government for any government entity to attempt to censor the activities or programs of a public library,” McCullough wrote. “What you propose is a restriction of speech based on the content of that speech. Any such attempt would violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 13 of the Vermont Constitution.”
McCullough also said state statute prohibited discrimination in any place of public accommodation based on sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. He noted that the library has a background check process for volunteers.
Tom McKone, executive director of the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, said he was aware of the email to McCullough from Blunt-Rock and wrote back to her but had not received a response. He also defended the program, based on the positive response to it last year.
“Of course, she has a right to perspectives on this, but at the library, we don’t have any concerns about a Drag Queen Story Hour,” McKone said. “We had about 85 people attend it — parents, grandparents, kids — and people had a great time.
The two individuals performing "dress in character, as their alternate personas, they read stories, they sing songs and it’s a lot of fun. It’s just plain entertaining,” McKone continued. The added that the duo has been performing at Vermont libraries for at least three years, and they’ve been in dozens of libraries around the state.
"There’s no concerns and we think it’s an appropriate and fun program,” McKone said.
McKone also noted that the library had a diverse, inclusive policy concerning its offerings to patrons.
McKone said a check with a library in another town in Vermont found that Blunt-Rock, who said she was from Montpelier, had sent an email identical to the one sent to McCullough, but claimed she was a resident of the other town she contacted.
“It was the same person, the same email, sent to another town,” McKone said, adding that the other library asked not to be identified.
To view the Kellogg-Hubbard Library’s policy concerning the vetting of volunteers, visit www.kellogghubbard.org/volunteer.
This article's online headline and some information about the presenters have been updated for accuracy.