Phoenix's annual LibraryCon canceled a drag queen storytime event — and some locals are crying foul.
Michelle Miranda-Thorstad, a library professional with the Southeast Regional Library in Gilbert, confirmed on November 9 that an event called "Reading with Queens" was canceled by the library's administration.
That morning, Miranda-Thorstad says, a supervisor informed her that the event was being cancelled because the readers didn't have early literacy training. "It is very disappointing," Miranda-Thorstad says of getting the news.
The event was set to feature drag queens Christopher Jay Hall, Allonna Dee, and Mia Inez Adams reading books with diversity and tolerance themes to children at the library.
On Friday, November 10, Hall started an online petition aimed at getting the storytime reinstated.
The Southeast Regional Library is part of the Maricopa County Library District, which has branches in several Valley cities.
The district has hosted LibraryCon since 2012, when library staffer Tara Carpenter came up with the idea. "I wanted to highlight the cool stuff in the library about fandom," Carpenter says.
LibraryCon 2017 will run from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, November 18, at the Gilbert library. The geek-centric event includes cosplay, games, panels, crafts, and food trucks. It's free and open to the public.
Miranda-Thorstad is on the committee that planned this year's LibraryCon back in September. She says the "Reading With the Queens" storytime was on the event schedule for several weeks before it got cut.
She's worked with drag performer Hall before. They presented a drag storytime event in July inside a room operated by the Town of Gilbert inside its Southwest Regional Library building. But it wasn't a library program.
Library district officials say they didn't know the LibraryCon drag reading event was on the books.
"We just found out about the program two days ago," Andrew Tucker told Phoenix New Times by e-mail on November 9. He's a communications administrator for the Maricopa County Library District.
Tucker says that the program was canceled for two reasons.
"Maricopa County Library District has strict guidelines for storytime programs," he writes. "Simply put, those guidelines weren't followed/met."
He also writes that "the proposed program truly has no connection to spirit of the LibraryCon event, which is focused on sci-fi, anime, manga, etc."
Tucker's email included an 18-page "Storytime Overview" from the Maricopa Country Library District. The document urges storytime event planners to consider early literacy concepts, but doesn't specify that readers need any special training in early literacy.
However, the overview does include a section on inclusivity, which opens like this:
"Being inclusive means that we should always consider the diverse world that we live in and try to incorporate a variety of authors, artists, musicians, and subjects within the storytime program."
After "Reading with the Queens" got axed, Miranda-Thorstad messaged the performers through her personal Facebook page. Then, she publicly posted this message: "Sorry everyone, but it looks as if the storytime has been cancelled."
Drag performer Dee suspects the event's cancellation stems from discrimination.
"It seems like Gilbert can be somewhat closed-minded when it comes to LGBT issues," Dee says. "The administration just didn't want to take a risk."
Libraries in several other cities, including Brooklyn and San Francisco, offer drag queen storytimes.
The American Library Association, a nationwide group that promotes library development and improvement, supports those programming initiatives.
James LaRue, director for the Library Association's office of intellectual freedom, said as much in a June 1 blog post about the controversy surrounding drag queen storytimes. "Censoring any library resource, including programs, just like books, needs to be resisted," he wrote.
It's a sentiment shared by Hall.
"Libraries are government-funded and they get tax money from all individuals, so they need to represent all of us," Hall says.
For drag performer Adams, who is transgender, the decision amounts to discrimination. "It's disheartening, but we are stereotyped," she says.
Miranda-Thorstad says she's hoping library administrators will change their minds. She's even submitted a proposal asking them to reinstate the storytime.
It helps when community members who want LGBT programming speak up, Miranda-Thorstad posted on her Facebook page Thursday night.
"Push your local libraries to cater to everyone in the community," she wrote. "Ask for diverse programs. Without the public's request it is very difficult for different programs and services to happen."
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The performers are also encouraging people to get involved.
Hall launched a petition titled "American Library Association: Help Bring Back Reading with the Queens" on Change.org. It went up on Friday, November 10. By 11:30 p.m. on Monday, November 13, it had nearly 850 signatures. He's hoping to gather at least 1,000 signatures for the petition, which will go to both the American Library Association and the Southeast Regional Library.
It's possible that library officials will return "Reading with the Queens" to the LibraryCon lineup. Odds are, the drag queens will show up during LibraryCon either way.
"We may go that day and do a peaceful protest outside the library," Dee says. "Reading books about acceptance to children will be part of that."