Parents protest Sonoma County Library's drag story hours

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Friday June 9, 2023
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A protest against drag story hours is planned for June 10 at the Petaluma Regional Library. Photo: Courtesy Waymark
A protest against drag story hours is planned for June 10 at the Petaluma Regional Library. Photo: Courtesy Waymark

A group of parents upset at the Sonoma County Library hosting several drag story hours this Pride Month is calling on library leaders to cancel the events and planning to protest at the system's Petaluma branch this weekend.

The complaints were spurred by the North Bay county's library system hosting Oakland-based drag king VERA! for events at four of its libraries over the weekend of June 17-18. The Rebel Kings of Oakland member is scheduled to read to children next weekend at libraries in Petaluma, Santa Rosa, and Windsor.

It prompted Sonoma County Parents Stand Up For Our Kids, a private Facebook group with more than 2,000 members, to call for protesters to gather at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 10, at the Petaluma Regional Library. A call for participants posted online asked for help "to stop the grooming and sexualization of our children" via the drag story hours.

"We need to come unified to show we will not accept normalizing the sexualization of children with allowing adult drag entertainers to be dressed as their fetish and read to children," said the post.

While it claimed the protest is not "anti trans, drag, or LGBTQIA+" or about "attacking their community or their lifestyles," it uses anti-LGBTQ talking points about needing to end "the grooming and the sexualization of our children."

A dozen people, mostly mothers, expressed similar sentiments at the June 7 meeting of the county's library commission during public comment at the start of its agenda, as seen in a video recording of the proceeding.

Cotati resident Renata Taylor asked the 10-member oversight body how it found drag story hours to be appropriate events to host at the county libraries.

"As a parent, we are finding this to be highly inappropriate for children," said Taylor. "Drag queens and kings are adult entertainers and are meant for adult entertainment. Last we checked, adult entertainment is not appropriate for children."

Jessica Warner, who is raising four children in Cotati, agreed and said at the meeting that people need to stand up against such events taking place at a library.

"It is my duty as a mother and I have a 15-year-old daughter who looks at these people who are dressing up and they don't represent who she is as a woman. I think that really needs to be heard from their perspective," she said.

One mother of three young children who only identified herself as Sarah, and as a Santa Rosa resident who works as a child development professional, told the commission that while it is problematic enough the libraries display LGBTQ-themed books during June, "even more upsetting" are the drag story hours.

"It is not appropriate for a county organization or a government entity to present sexually explicit programs for small children," she said, adding that she shouldn't have to avoid bringing her children to the library as she does during June. "But this is not a decision I should have to make. Drag kings and queens have no business entertaining children, and children should not be led to believe this lifestyle is normal."

Vera Hannush, who performs as VERA! and was profiled this week as a "drag king you need to know" on the Broke Ass Stuart website, has yet to respond to a request for comment about the protests of their upcoming readings.

Library commission chair Deborah Doyle also has yet to respond to the Bay Area Reporter's request for comment.

On Thursday Ray Holley, the library system's public information officer and communications manager, sent out an email alerting supporters of the library about the planned protest at the Petaluma library branch Saturday due to the upcoming drag story hour. In it he gave no indication that the library would cancel such events.

"As a key aspect of our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, the library is offering story times this summer that feature drag performers. As you may have heard, we are receiving mixed feedback; many people are excited and grateful that we are celebrating diversity and the freedom to read, some feel strongly opposed," wrote Holley.

Speaking to the B.A.R. Friday Holley said the libraries plan to host the drag story time hours and that library officials have reached out to the respective police departments in Sonoma County to alert them of the possibility of protests at the events. This is the second year that Holley is aware of the library system hosting drag performers during Pride Month.

"It is really important for libraries to not only meet our communities where they need to be met but to provide diverse and appropriate programming for everyone," said Holley, a straight ally who has been fielding calls from those upset at the drag story hours.

Throughout the year the library system hosts thousands of story time events for children, with the most popular ones being when kids get to read to dogs, said Holley. Just four of them feature drag performers, he said.

The library in Guerneville will be hosting an all-ages story time event in July with the Russian River chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The drag philanthropic group has also been the brunt of protests in recent weeks from conservative Catholics and Republican elected officials.

"This is not about educating people about drag, although that is occasionally a byproduct. This is about making reading fun, enjoyable, and accessible to all," said Holley.

A main concern for library officials, said Holley, has to do with "people who conflate the LGBTQIA+ community with the sexual act. Gender identity and sex, you and I know, are not the same thing, but there exists that confusion with some people. So we are trying to passively provide an alternative explanation to that."

As he noted in his email, library employees from throughout the system also plan to be at the Petaluma branch Saturday "to show silent and respectful support of our programming, and we are reaching out to LGBTQIA+ positive organizations and faith groups."

Holley will be there and is thinking he may bring rainbow-sprinkled donuts to hand out to people as a way to open up a dialogue.

This isn't the first time a Bay Area public library hosting a drag performer to read to children has led to protests. Last June, a group of protesters stormed the San Lorenzo Library in the East Bay and disrupted a drag story hour being led by Panda Dulce, who regularly reads at such events.

In his email Holley hoped that the protests of the Sonoma County Library's drag story hours would remain peaceful.

"The library is prepared for protests to our drag story times, and we understand that you may want to take part in a peaceful, thoughtful and non-violent response. If we attend a protest in support of story times, it is imperative that we model respectful civil behavior and discourse," he wrote.

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