When a local drag queen named Annie Christ wanted to book a room at the Lansdale Library to host a story hour, staff did the state’s required background check and reserved a room for this Saturday, Feb. 2. After all, drag-queen story hours have become a trend in libraries across the country and around greater Philadelphia.
Then, the phone calls began.
“There’s definitely more complaints about this than any other event we’ve done,” said beleaguered library director Tom Meyer. “But the amount of support for having it is also overwhelming.”
He estimates 50 phone calls have come in, many of them from outside the area, expressing concerns. He figures maybe a dozen protesters will show up, based on Facebook activity — but he also expects so many families to attend, he’ll have to start turning people away after the room hits its 64-person capacity.
“Lansdale, Pennsylvania, is bringing perversion from the nightclubs and sexually charged pride parades into the library with children,” a Facebook page announcing a protest reads.
Such story hours have spurred similar protests (and counterprotests) around the nation. In Texas, opponents even filed suit in federal court. Demonstrators rallied outside a South Carolina library, and circulated petitions against a similar event in Detroit.
Meyer met such threats with a shrug. “One of the tenets of our mission here is to celebrate cultural diversity in the community, and I think a lot of the parents are interested in that and also the message of the story time, about acceptance and inclusion,” he said. Meyer added that he also supports demonstrators' right to speak their piece.
Library branches in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania suburbs, and South Jersey have run similar events with drag queens since 2017; the Free Library of Philadelphia alone has hosted more than 50 of them, according to Andrew Nurkin, deputy director of enrichment and civic engagement. Currently, the Fumo Family Library Branch in South Philadelphia is hosting a series of drag-queen trivia nights, including one Feb. 13.
That’s hosted by Ian Morrison, also known as Brittany Lynn, a drag queen who has just launched a fund-raising campaign for an event series, a Drag Queen Story Time Tour, that kicks off at the Please Touch Museum in June but will continue across the region, including puppets in the audience who will raise questions kids might be afraid to ask about gender differences and acceptance.
“I think the message of love and acceptance resonates universally,” said Abbe Klebanoff, the Fumo branch manager, adding that the drag-queen events are among the branch’s most popular.
Backlash has been minimal, Klebanoff said. “I had one woman come up to me — she saw a flier — and we had a very frank discussion. She had a different point of view."
She had heard of protests elsewhere. “But that’s Texas,” she said.
Still, Steve Piotrowski, who created a Facebook page criticizing the event, said he and co-organizer Ken Souder will be outside the library Saturday for a protest, prayer gathering, and news conference.
“We strongly believe that it is very dangerous to use publicly funded libraries and government in general to promote radical ideas,” Piotrowski said in an email.
He believes Annie Christ in particular is anti-Christian, and drag-queen story hours in general aim to “indoctrinate children. ... The community is overwhelmingly not approving of this.”
Brittany Lynn said the reason families love the story hour is it opens up conversations.
“We’re not pushing any agenda. We’re just giving a view of diversity and acceptance that isn’t so heteronormative,” the performer said.
Last year, the drag queen’s event at the Please Touch Museum stirred some anger and threats to cancel memberships. But the museum stood by the event.
Recently, Brittany Lynn held a fund-raiser for the Fumo Family Branch that raised $300, more than doubling the branch’s annual budget for hosting community events. Now, the goal is to raise $10,000 to make sure every kid who’s interested has access to a little drag-queen glitter and glamour.
“As you know in Philadelphia, the funding for libraries is causing them to close on weekends and end their social programming," Brittany Lynn said. "They’re struggling. The point of the fund-raiser is not only to create the materials needed, but to make these programs available at no cost to the venues that are progressive enough to have it.”