LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — No reading event at the Leander Public Library has likely ever created as much commotion as the LGBTQ story time did on Saturday afternoon.
A noisy crowd of almost 300 protesters and supporters gathered outside the building, where the Open Cathedral church held its Leander Family Pride Festival and Story Time in a rented library conference room.
Courtney Lewis of Leander brought her two young children dressed in rainbow Pride T-shirts to the event, but she had concerns about taking them through the large demonstrations held outside it.
“We had a talk in the car on the way here about what we might see and what people might be saying,” Lewis said. “It’s just something we have a conversation about often in our family, a two-mom family. Yeah, we definitely had a conversation about it, but we also spoke about how we can show kindness even if others aren’t.”
Supporters played music, chanted and carried rainbow Pride flags. Julie Bates of Cedar Park told KXAN that she came to stand for tolerance and promote reading.
“If you have an issue with this, then come read to these kids,” Bates said. “Don’t protest people you don’t know. Don’t protest something you don’t understand. Come and read to our children because that is what’s lacking.”
Protesters set up mostly on the north side of the parking lot holding signs, while a traveling minister from Atlanta used a loudspeaker to make some anti-LGBTQ comments toward the story time event’s supporters. Scarlett Clay of Cedar Park held up a homemade sign nearby that read, “Your body is a gift from God.”
“We don’t like the way they’re sort of using the children as political pawns to try to push the agenda in our community,” Clay said. “So we wanted to come out and make that clear that we are concerned and we’re going to stand up and say so.”
The Open Cathedral church stepped in last month when the City of Leander canceled its own Drag Queen Story Time at the library because of backlash. On Friday, however, Pastor Ryan Hart announced that the event would now be called the Leander Family Pride Event and Story Time. He wrote on Facebook that the drag performer that the church picked to read to the children could no longer participate because of an “unavoidable work commitment.”
Even though a drag performer did not ultimately read to the children, some entertainers still gathered outside Saturday to support the event. A drag queen named Miss Kitty Litter ATX told KXAN that she received death threats last week after leading a children’s story time at an Austin library.
“I just want people out there to know that we’re not out to sexualize children. We’re not able to indoctrinate people to a lifestyle,” she said. “The only thing I wanted to do was read some books and teach inclusivity and kindness. I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.”
Protester Lauren Morris drove to Leander from Austin Saturday to hold a banner that read: “Close the book on Drag Queen Story Time.”
“The narrative that they say they’re bringing is diversity and love and humanity and inclusiveness, and those are all very vague and ambiguous terms,” Morris said. “I think if you peel back some layers and you look underneath this nationwide campaign and this nationwide agenda, you’re going to find some very unsavory characters.”
Leander City Councilor Christine Sederquist and two mothers who attend Open Cathedral church ended up reading three books to the group of about 130 people. Sederquist said afterward that it was “unfortunate” to see the demonstrations.
“Inside the building, it’s been all about community and just supporting each other and, you know, just focusing on the good,” she said.
Pastor Hart said those protests did not have much effect on the mood of the story time event, which he described as “wonderful.” Members of the media were not allowed to go inside Saturday.
“As far as the protests go, I have only seen them from a distance, but from a distance it feels like a street festival,” Hart said. “My hope is that it felt that way for the people that were up close too, that they felt they were respected and had their rights. We’re a church that believes in and embraces diversity of opinions and so that’s representation of the many forms of diversity of opinion.”
The City of Leander closed the public library Saturday because of the expected protests. Dozens of Leander police officers remained on scene throughout the day to monitor the crowds as well as the noise levels. However, they made no arrests during the event.