After the administrators of Chester’s Whiting Library decided to “suspend” the organization of Drag Queen Story Hour, the library director resigned and members of the community expressed their frustration.
Meanwhile, a local restaurant agreed to host the event instead.
“Drag Queen Story Hours” was started by author Michelle Tea and RADAR Productions, a queer literary arts organization, in San Francisco in 2015. The idea has since caught on, with events that take place in major cities as well as rural towns across America. A New York-based nonprofit even offers programs, training, and resources to local chapters.
The events are simple: drag queens read children’s books to children. In Vermont, the readings were led by drag queens Emoji Nightmare (Justin Marsh, director of communications and development at Pride Center VT) and Nikki Champagne (Rep. Taylor Small, P/D-Winooski). Together they held readings all over the state, from Cambridge to Brattleboro and many cities in between.
Earlier this month, Chester Library administrators decided to suspend hosting Storytime with little explanation. At a special board meeting that followed on Thursday, administrator Robert Nied said the board’s decision was made after discovering an image on the artists’ website that “compared a naked woman to a dumpster and included the suggestion that it was a container for bodily fluids”. .”
He suggested that a parent or child could Google the artists and come across the image.
“It was completely inappropriate to be associated with anyone presenting on a children’s program,” he said.
Thusday, trustees also voted unanimously to accept the resignation of library director Deirdre Doran, which she submitted last week. She will work until the end of June.
The board did not say why Doran resigned. However, Nied said Doran expressed his disapproval of the decision to suspend the story an hour before tendering his resignation.
Doran did not respond to phone and email requests for comment this week.
At Thursday’s meeting, attendees expressed frustration with the trustees’ decision to suspend storytime hosting and the role the trustees played in Doran’s resignation.
“To think that (storytime) needs to be checked out immediately because they’re drag queens, that’s where some of the concern in the community comes from,” said Chester resident Linda Diak, during a meeting. She and others suggested administrators applied particular scrutiny to the event because of its connection to the LGBTQ+ community.
Nied suggested the problem was related to “what the news likes to call ‘culture wars’.”
“This entire board supports — with our increased programming — programming for the LGBT community,” he said.
Marsh, who planned to perform alongside Katniss Everqueer at Chester’s Drag Queen Storytime as Emoji Nightmare and whose musical album was associated with the explicit image, dismissed the controversy as being wrong.
“I think in this situation, it’s clear the board is overextended,” Marsh said. “When we read stories to people in libraries, bookstores, or wherever we are, we adjust our character to be the most appropriate for the audience.”
“I don’t know what 6 year old looks at my website, but more power to them if they do,” they said.
Drag Queen Story Hour is no stranger to controversy. In 2019, a reading in Montpellier sparked angry comments at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library after a conservative commentator urged subscribers to express their “disgust” at the library.
The event went off without a hitch.
Marsh said it’s typical for libraries to receive initial blowback after announcing drag queen story hours, and they provide resources on how to handle attention.
“And then the event happens, a lot of people show up, everything is beautiful and the world goes on. It’s the typical cycle,” they said.
Since Marsh and Small launched the Vermont chapter of Drag Queen Story Hour five years ago, they’ve tried to target rural communities like Chester, where LGBTQ+ programming may be less accessible to residents.
Most of the material they read doesn’t deal with queer themes, Marsh said, although some do. Recently, they started reading “Bodies Are Cool” by Tyler Feder, a book promoting body positivity.
“I think we’re opening doors for a lot of families who otherwise don’t have access to their local libraries,” Marsh said.
After hearing about the reluctance from Chester Library, The Pizza Stone, a restaurant in Chester, is planning to host the reading on June 4.
Darlene Doane, owner of The Pizza Stone, said the decision to host Drag Queen Story Hour was a no-brainer.
“I wouldn’t turn that down in a heartbeat,” she said. “It’s a very positive and wonderful thing to present.”
Celebrating the city’s diverse community is a worthy cause, Doane said.
“I mean, yeah, it’s a sleepy little town, Chester,” she said. “But you know, we’re not under a rock either.”