Houston’s Drag Queen Story Time is calling it quits, following controversy, including a lawsuit, and landing in a political ad critical of the event.
The readings launched in September 2017, at the Freed-Montrose Library, to little fanfare. The event grew in popularity, and began to draw local media attention, which in turn brought critics.
“Blackberri, one of the drag queen readers at our very first event, had read to children at an unrelated story time at the Heights Library, and KHOU did a brief segment on that,” organizers Trent Lira and Devin Will explained in an article for Houstonian Magazine. “We didn’t know the event had occurred until we saw the video being shared online, but we certainly don’t own the idea of drag queens and kings reading to children; cities across the United States host similar events. It was a pleasant surprise to see our friend getting recognition for her work.”
But the story coincided with a member of city council condemning drag queen story time events, and it brought out the first wave of protests, in the summer of 2018. Mayor Sylvester Turner had to point out that the program was requested by patrons of two libraries, and that it did not use tax dollars.
There was even a lawsuit, alleging the reading was an example of the government favoring a religion, claiming that drag queens reading to children was an expression of secular humanism. A judge dismissed the case.
Still, that didn’t stop the protesters, and counter-protesters, from showing up. One protester was arrested after refusing to leave the premises, and was discovered to be carrying a concealed firearm. Safety of patrons, library staff, and the drag queens and kings was in question, prompting a move to a new location. That helped, but only briefly.
The situation got worse when it was discovered, and publicly revealed, that one of the drag queens that had volunteered to read at a few events had been convicted of sexually abusing a child.
The Houston Public Library apologized and said it had failed to complete a background check on the individual, Alberto Garza, which runs counter to their own guidelines. Organizers also expressed their regret at the situation.
“It was devastating,” they said. “We had insisted and insisted that what we were doing was safe for children, and yet here was a performer who had been charged with sexual assault of a minor. We didn’t know about the conviction prior to last week, but it would have come up if a background check had been conducted. It was a systematic mistake.”
Due to the events that have unfolded, they said they feel it is best to discontinue the readings.
“What started as a fun community event shared between us, a couple of drag queens and kings, and a few families has become a national controversy. People are being threatened. People are being hurt. We believe in what we’re doing, but we don’t believe in putting our friends, our families, or our children in danger.”