Efforts to ban Drag Queen Story Hour events and other LGBTQ-related content from public libraries are proliferating across the country.
In Minnesota, legislators have introduced a bill that directly bans public libraries from hosting Drag Queen Story Hours. It mandates that they lose all state funding if they do.
In South Dakota, a recently proposed – though quickly withdrawn – bill would have broadly prevented state and local government from recognizing a wide range of LGBTQ rights. It included a ban on Drag Queen Story Hour events in public libraries and schools.
In Missouri, a legislator frankly stated that the purpose of his bill is to prevent libraries from hosting Drag Queen Story Hour. The Missouri bill, and identical legislation in Tennessee, would require libraries to create committees of local citizens with the power to exclude children from access to books and activities which the committee considers “inappropriate.” Librarians and public school teachers cannot be members of the committees.
What is Drag Queen Story Hour?
Drag Queen Story Hour is an event during which drag queens read stories to children in libraries, schools, and bookstores. It aims to to “capture the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and give kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models.”
What is wrong with banning Drag Queen Story Hour?
Bans on Drag Queen Story Hour are unconstitutional because they violate First Amendment protections of freedom of speech, and they discriminate against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation. The First Amendment bars governments and government agencies (which includes public libraries) from discriminating against specific viewpoints. Therefore, when a public library has a policy of inviting people to read to children, it cannot exclude them because some politicians or patrons dislike their message. Because Drag Queen Story Hour intentionally promotes a message of diversity and inclusion, any law banning it discriminates based on viewpoint.
The bans also violate the Fourteenth Amendment, because they specifically target events due to the sexual identity of the speakers. The US Supreme Court ruled almost 25 years ago that laws motivated by hostility to LGBTQ people, or any other group, violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
No one is forcing children to attend Drag Queen Story Hour. Many parents want their kids to participate. Those who don’t can simply not attend. Opponents of an event are free to protest outside the library. But legislators cannot use the power of the state, including the threat of loss of funding, to prevent libraries from hosting Drag Queen Story Hour events and those like it.
Whether or not these bills become law, efforts to ban Drag Queen Story Hour can and very likely are creating a chilling effect on librarians and administrators who are considering whether to host Drag Queen Story Hour and similar LGBTQ-themed events by creating an environment of fear of losing their funding or facing threats by legislators.
Virtual Drag Queen Story Hour
As schools and libraries close during the coronavirus pandemic, Drag Queen Story Hour is offering live streams of story readings. You can find the schedule of events on their Facebook page here.