AUSTIN (KXAN) — Protesters and counter-protesters gathered at Austin city hall Thursday to voice their concerns and support for the Drag Queen Story Time program that takes place in Central Texas public libraries. It comes ahead of Austin’s Pride Parade on Saturday.
- FACEBOOK LIVE: Those protesting Drag Queen Story Time
- FACEBOOK LIVE: Those supporting Drag Queen Story Time
The protesters, led by the activist group MassResistance, spoke in the city hall media room before bringing their concerns to city council members. MassResistance, based out of Massachusetts, describes itself as a pro-family activist organization “providing information and guidance to confront assaults on the traditional family, school children and the moral foundation of society.”
One speaker from MassResistance, Tracy Shannon, traveled from Houston to address the council and called the events an “ideological crusade posing as a storytime.” Another speaker expressed concerns that drag queens could be confusing for children.
“The city should adopt language governing children’s programs at the library, restricting adult entertainers and content reflective of adult sexuality or sexual orientation,” John Miller said to close out his speech.
He was met with both boos and applause.
In response, Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said everyone in Austin “has a right to their identity, to their beliefs, to their perspective. But this is — this is not Leander, and this is not a place where someone from Houston feels it’s appropriate to come into Austin and tell us how to run our city.”
“The real story is that people who want to lie and spread misinformation about my community are trying to leverage the work of this city in order to score some pointless political points,” Flannigan went on to say. “It’s ridiculous. And I’m not going to stand for it.”
READ MORE: Leander renews ‘Drag Queen Story Time’ for children at public library after cancellation
In a press release, MassResistance says many residents have questions for the city about the Drag Queen Story Time event. They said concerned citizens want to know who brought the event to public libraries, to start.
Austin Public Library says it has hosted four Drag Queen storytimes in the past two years. The free and open to the public events are not regularly scheduled and are listed as “storytimes” on Austin Public Library’s website and “branch locations may or may not advertise guest presenters in advance.” APL’s Office of Programs and Partnerships is in charge of approving the programming, which is offered for parents, caregivers and their children age five and under.
During its press conference earlier in the morning, MassResistance was joined by Texas House Representative candidate Jennifer Fleck.
“During Drag Queen Story Hour, children are exposed to hyper-sexualized entertainers and sexual content,” Fleck said. “For the city to provide the public space paid for by our tax dollars is to wrongfully engage all of us in promoting unhealthy and harmful conditioning.”
Over a dozen counter-protesters also gathered at city hall during the press conference and city council meeting to voice their support for the Drag Queen Story Time. They were carrying signs denouncing bigotry and promoting love.
MassResistance was listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of its anti-LGBT stance. The SPLC’s definition of a hate group is “an organization that — based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities — has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics,” which includes race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation. The SPLC’s “hate map” has prompted some criticism and lawsuits from those on the list, according to NBC News. “To classify anyone as part of a ‘hate group’ simply for protecting children and families is just nonsensical,” MassResistance Organization Director Arthur Schaper told KXAN.
Candice Aylor the Pastor and Minister of Justice of the Anti Fascism Non-Christian Church spoke with KXAN, criticizing MassResistance’s protest of Drag Queen Story Time.
“They are just people, we’re all just existing as we are and a drag queen or a lesbian or a gay person or a Muslim person or any other marginalized person is existing as they were created and as they choose to exist,” Aylor said. “There is no reason that person shouldn’t be able to read books to children just like any other person.”
The Open Cathedral church in Leander stepped up in May and rented a room at the Leander Public Library to host Drag Queen Story Time when the city decided to cancel its own event.
The City of Leander canceled the library’s initial event after receiving feedback from the community and starting a review process for future events at the facility. The city launched an online survey to gather more input from people about future programming.