State Lawmaker Blasts Canceled LGBTQ Event at Ohio Public Library

The event in Newark, Ohio was one of two recently-canceled classes involving drag

click to enlarge Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder - Ohio House of Representatives
Ohio House of Representatives
Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder

Two public libraries in central Ohio recently canceled LGBTQ-related events after public backlash.

One in Delaware County aimed at teaching young people about the artistic elements of drag performance was canceled by the library late last month after it said it received threats related to the class.

Another in Newark was to offer a number of LGBTQ-themed activities, including a drag makeup tutorial. It was canceled after a powerful state lawmaker waded into the controversy, issuing a stern letter condemning the event.

Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican who represents Newark and surrounding areas, got wind of that library's event and May 31 issued an open letter blasting the scheduled class.

"When I was first informed our public libraries were being used to teach teenage boys how to become drag queens, I thought it was a joke," Householder wrote. "But the joke is apparently on taxpayers, who fund our libraries. This is a stunningly bizarre breach of the public trust. And it must stop."

That event put on by the Licking County Library System and called "A Universe of Stories — Galaxy of Diversity" was to be held after hours and was funded by a local pride group.

The system canceled the event after Householder's letter, saying misinformation about its intent and content had grown too hard to control.

"We have learned that several people felt this was some sort of Drag Queen training workshop," the library said in a statement shared on social media. "This was not the case, but nevertheless, we have decided to cancel. We appreciate the discussion and comments we received and regret the enormous amount of misinformation that has occurred the last two days. Thank you."

The Newark Ohio Pride Coalition, which was funding the event, issued its own statement.

The coalition challenged Householder to "respect the civil liberties of Newark, Ohio's residents" and "take the time to gather accurate facts, prior to issuing a factually inaccurate response to a program hosted by and for our community."

It's not the only event to get canceled after controversy. An hour-long class for ages 12-17 called "Drag 101" was scheduled for June 5 at a branch of the aforementioned Delaware County District Library. The library says several teens had requested a class focused on the theatrical craft of drag performances.

Selena T. West, a well-known drag queen from Columbus, was to be the instructor for the workshop.

But library director George Needham announced May 29 that the event was canceled after the library received threatening messages, some from outside the area.

Needham said the event also received a lot of support after attention around it started growing late last month. The tough decision to cancel, however, was made due to concerns about safety.

"Our hearts overflowed with the stories people told us," Needham said in a statement. "Stories that said they wished a program like this had been offered when they were a teen living in Delaware County. Stories from parents and grandparents who said they were proud to live in a community with a library that supported them and their children. Stories from teens who would attend the program and are excited for the library’s offerings of inclusive and diverse programming.”

"However, there were also some hostile and angry messages," the statement continues. "A small number of those messages appeared to threaten the safety of our staff, our patrons, Selena and the teens and caregivers for whom we strive to provide a safe space." 

West says the program isn't about sex or sexuality, but about the history and theatrical aspects of drag from the literary cannon up to contemporary popular culture.

West has rescheduled the event at a privately-owned bookstore nearby called Secret Identity Comics. It will take place June 5 at 2 p.m.

Events involving drag performers at public libraries have inflamed controversy in other states as well.

The American Library Association, the professional organization representing libraries and librarians, has in the past strongly defended public libraries' rights to hold events like the ones scheduled in Licking and Delaware Counties.

Last year, the group came out in strong support of "Drag Storytime" events in which drag queens read children's books at various public libraries in Louisiana, Alabama and other states.

"ALA, through its actions and those of its members, is instrumental in creating a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive society," the group said in a post sharing resources for finding or starting the events. "This includes a commitment to combating marginalization and underrepresentation within the communities served by libraries through increased understanding of the effects of historical exclusion."

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