Citizens of Leander, a suburb of Austin, suddenly finds themselves at a puzzling crossroads: Do they want to continue promoting high-risk sexual behavior to their community and to their children?
Before answering that question, rewind the clock by a month. It’s May, and Leander Public Library is advertising their new summer “children’s” event—Drag Queen Story Time, where an adult performer will read LGBT books to young kids.
Word quickly spread about the event and alarmed the community. Citizens spoke out against its inappropriateness for children and the lack of a screening process for the drag queen; city spokesman Michael Neu brought up a report from Houston in which a registered sex offender was allowed to read to children during a similar event at their city’s library.
Soon after the public outcry, Leander cancelled the event.
“While numerous events are presently under review, the City’s decision to cancel these events at this time was made collectively among city and library management staff after receiving input from many citizens and community stakeholders,” an official statement read.
But the story was just beginning.
Shortly after the cancellation, a progressive group called Open Cathedral Church stepped in to pick up the event, renting a conference room at the library for June 15. Drag Queen Story Time was back on.
The church’s decision set off even more alarms in the community, and this time, the city ran far from the sound; they made it clear they were no longer responsible for the event.
“While the event will still be held at the Leander Public Library facility on the same day as previously scheduled, activities will be hosted and managed by Open Cathedral church, not Leander Public Library or the City of Leander,” an official statement read. “Use of library conference rooms also does not constitute a City of Leander endorsement of viewpoints expressed by participants in the rental agreement, and rental requests are honored on a first come, first-served basis.”
Open Cathedral would soon expand Drag Queen Story Time to an even broader function celebrating high-risk sexual behavior. A day before the event, the church announced that the drag queen they originally scheduled could no longer attend because of an “unavoidable work commitment,” so they rebranded the gathering to be “bigger and more inclusive”—Leander Family Pride Festival and Story Time. Open Cathedral members as well as Leander City Council member Christine Sederquist would now be reading LGBT stories to children.
June 15 finally arrived, and on that warm, sunny Saturday afternoon, a crowd of nearly 300 citizens gathered outside the Leander Public Library to protest or support the event. Signs were held throughout the crowd; one read, “Open Cathedral, Stop Brainwashing Our Children.” Drag queens such as Miss Kitty Litter ATX attended. Police were present, to ensure safety. The city closed the library to the public during the event, only admitting those who had tickets. Media were not allowed inside.
While the event was underway indoors with roughly 130 people, residents in the parking lot expressed their views on the issue.
“I called up my city and mayor and told them I was not happy about my taxpayer dollars going towards children being read to by an adult performer,” said Leander resident Stella Williams.
Resident Amanda Onks, however, didn’t see a problem with it.
“There’s nothing wrong with some drag queens wanting to read books to kids,” she said.
Onks added she hoped there would be similar local gatherings in Leander in the future, and that it was nice to not have to travel into Austin for these types of events.
Among those in the crowd were newly elected Cedar Park City Council members Tim Kelly and Rodney Robinson, who both said they strongly oppose “exposing children to this stuff at a young age,” especially at a taxpayer-funded building.
“You are giving children a responsibility that they just don’t have the mental capacity to understand,” Kelly said. “I see these families come here with little children that are 4, 5 and 6 (years old). What those parents or caretakers are doing, that is child abuse. That’s what bothers me the most … it’s grooming them.”
The event finally ended, and when it was over, Open Cathedral Pastor Ryan Hart emerged from the library and spoke with the media. He described the mood inside as “wonderful.”
“Hearing the kids giggle, laugh, and love the stories made every single moment worth it,” Hart said.
The saga of Leander’s Drag Queen Story Time has now brought the city to a crossroads. According to spokesman Neu, Leander is seriously rethinking its library events policy for future events. The city’s website currently has a survey where citizens can submit their thoughts.
Ultimately, however, the city has only itself to blame for this dilemma. This story began when they first decided to host the original event, and even though their decision unfolded a tumultuous series of events, they still have the ability to write this tale’s next chapter.
Amidst all the noise of the issue, Leander must answer only one question to determine where they will go now: Will they use citizens’ money to promote high-risk sexual behavior, or will they choose a different path for their community?