On Friday, December 20th I attended a drag queen story hour at the Jessie Peterman Memorial Library in Floyd County, Virginia. The event was shrouded in a minor controversy concerning whether or not it would be an official library event, or just a privately sponsored affair making use of the library’s community room. As covered by SWVA Today, PFLAG, the organization behind the story hour was unable to secure approval due to a procedural issue. The regional director of the library system, Karim Khan, outlined concerns that official support of this event could jeopardize future library funding. Of special interest is that in the past PFLAG did secure official library support for “a program on refugees and a collection of LGBTQ+-inclusive books”.
Despite the alleged controversy, I did not observe any protesters, picketers, or anyone not obviously in support of event aside from a single gentleman quietly observing from the back of the room when I arrived. I asked one of the drag queens if there had been any disruption of her event and she categorized the opposition as a “paper tiger”, a sentiment I could hardly disagree with given the total absence of local resistance. In attendance were roughly 15 adults and 5 children.
The first drag queen to do readings was Wytheville, Virginia native Logan Thomas under the stage name “Dreama Belle”. Wytheville is perhaps most famous for being the site of a lynching in 1926. The second drag queen was an older individual with a much more dramatic stage presence. Selections included “I Am Jazz”, a “children’s book” written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, a well-known transgender teenager. “I Am Jazz” includes descriptions of a doctor diagnosing a young boy with “transgenderism” followed by his parents expressing full support for his re-invention as a girl. Other readings included “Introducing Teddy” about a transgender teddy bear named Thomas who wants to identify as a “girl teddy” called “Tilly”. Thematically the books were about transgender issues and the unconditional acceptance of the character’s new identity by their friends and family.
There were no exceptions to this general template and no reading of the “Little Engine That Could” or any literature that did not include pro-transgender messaging.
The second drag queen introduced herself with something I would describe as a social justice sermon about tolerance and acceptance. I would characterize the entire tone of the event as a type of evangelical preaching directed at young children, who themselves expressed wildly differing levels of interest in the content. The youngest child appeared to be roughly one years old.
I was able to briefly interview the second drag queen and ask a few questions, such as whether she felt it was important to get this message out to young kids. She responded with an enthusiastic affirmative, stating that children of “3 and 4 years old are coming out as transgender” and expressing the sentiment that it was important to validate their identity at this age. As previously mentioned, this drag queen from San Francisco was very dismissive of the local Christian community’s objections and seemed incensed that the library wouldn’t officially sponsor the event. She was extremely animated by my questions and we were warned to be more quiet by the event organizers.
I was given a pamphlet from the Episcopal Church sub-titled “A short resource for LGBTQ + Christians” by one of the organizers, which I found a bit odd as I am an atheist. I’ll speculate that my professional level of dress may have unintentionally sent the message I was a church-goer. After story time concluded, I left the event, and was approached by the other gentleman who had been sitting next to me while I was filming and taking photos. He was under the impression I was there as an outsider documenting the event, which indeed I was. I feel this was likely a local conservative who disapproved of drag queen story hour.
Subjective personal observations:
1. The drag queen was right, local grass-roots opposition to this was a paper tiger. There was no protest of this event despite a distinct lack of police, antifa, or other potential threats.
2. The event itself was 100 % political activism aimed at children, this was not merely “reading books to kids” this was propaganda under the thinnest possible facade. Worse it took on the tonal quality of literal evangelical preaching with a righteous zeal exceeding some church services.
3. Due to local political concerns, one could easily speculate that the library intended to officially sponsor this event until a minor controversy surrounding it appeared on social media. Reading between the lines of the SWVA news article one would be tempted to think the library made up a hasty excuse to “cancel” the event only after it began to attract bad PR and would’ve sponsored it had no one raised any objections. Branch Manager Lori Kaluska apologizing and taking all the blame for “not following the chain of command” seems suspiciously convenient.
4. From my previous journalistic endeavors I’ve seen local library leadership seeking out funding from the local board of supervisors and access to said funding was very clearly their motivation for distancing themselves from the drag queen story hour. I think further questions are warranted and should be directed at the Floyd County Board of Supervisors. I was told to contact director Karim Khan of the Jessie Peterman Library system for further comment at (540) 382-6969, extension 216. A cell was provided at (703) 969-8644.