Delaware County teens interested in learning the basics of drag still will have that opportunity next week at the Delaware County District Library’s Orange branch, despite opposition to the program from some residents.
The branch, 7171 Gooding Blvd., will host Drag 101 from 2 to 3 p.m. June 5. The event is geared to children of any gender ages 12-17 who are interested in learning “the basics” of dressing in drag.
The host for the class will be former Miss Gay Ohio America and local drag queen Selena T. West. West is part of the “drag family” of Columbus performer and philanthropist Nina West, who recently appeared on the VH1 show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
Her goal with the class, she said, will be to show that “drag is for everyone” and give children an outlet they may otherwise not have had.
“It’s going to be open to everybody, and I want people to come be able to express themselves and learn about drag,” she said. “Drag is not scary; drag is not sexual. (Teens can) learn about what seem like trivial things like hair, nails, makeup, clothing. Those are the building blocks of a Drag 101 class I would teach.”
That message hasn’t sat well with all of Delaware County.
Some, including Ohio Senate District 26 candidate Melissa Ackison of Marysville, have raised concerns about the class on social media.
State Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell), who represents all of Delaware County, described the “outrage” he said he’s heard from his constituents.
“I’m sure most residents do not want taxpayer dollars supporting the promotion of teen drag queen ‘reading’ programs,” he wrote in an email to ThisWeek.
The library’s board of trustees moved its May 21 meeting from the district’s Ostrander location to nearby Scioto Township Hall to accommodate a room of several dozen interested residents and allowed for a special public-comment section for them to address the topic.
At the meeting, 25 people spoke on the subject, as did West. Of those 25 speakers, 17 expressed their support for the program and eight spoke against it.
Those in favor of the program praised the library’s “support for all kinds of art,” said they appreciated more “diversity and acceptance” in the library and shared personal stories about the difficulties of navigating teen years.
“What the opposition is doing now is fear-mongering,” resident Mindy Hedges said. “Remember in our country how books were kept from the public eye because of ignorance. Amazing books like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ were not allowed in the public library system because of fear-mongering. A library is a place for learning, not a place for squashing learning.”
Those in opposition said the program was inappropriate for teens, should not occur in an establishment that uses public funds and shouldn’t invoke the word drag at all.
“I think if it was portrayed as dress-up, makeup, things along those lines in the description, it would have been received much better,” resident Bill Hunt said. “I just want to express that a lot of the pushback and the comments on this program have been because of the negative connotation behind what that definition has meant in the past.”
Library spokeswoman Nicole Fowles said May 23 there are no plans to cancel the event, and said cancellation was never considered by the board.
“The board members were only taking public comment for public discourse,” she said. “At that board meeting, there were no decisions made to cancel the event.”
She said the continued complaints and backlash regarding the event largely have come from people outside of Delaware County who heard about it through social media or other channels.
“We’re getting a lot of calls from out of the state; that was predominantly what we heard (May 22) – calls from as far away as Seattle,” she said. “The primary reason that’s unfortunate is that it’s really interfering with our librarians’ ability to do their daily jobs and serve our local public who we’re here to serve.”
The Delaware County Board of Commissioners also has received plenty of calls on the matter, as evidenced by a May 23 press release reminding residents that the board has no authority over the library’s programs.
While commissioners must grant approval of library tax-levy requests and appoints four of the library board’s seven members, the library “is a separate agency, funded by its own sources of revenue and managed by an independent Board of Trustees,” according to the release sent by county spokeswoman Jane Hawes.
Some speakers during the May 21 meeting expressed concerns that the event description includes the phrase, “teens only, please,” and others were concerned about background checks for those involved.
Fowles said all events include a background check for those leading them and said the “teens only” designation is about keeping the event focused on teens rather than younger students, not about separating anyone from their parents or keeping curious onlookers away.
“Teens need their own space,” she said.
However, the library announced May 24 that in this case, it would allow one parent or caregiver of a teenager to sit in the room during the program. No adults will be admitted without a teen.
During the meeting, Fowles also read a statement from the library to those in attendance, explaining why the program makes sense for the library.
She said libraries’ meeting rooms “may be used by any community groups who meet the qualifications as outlined on our policy page on our website,” reiterated the library’s “history of teen support for theatrical and performing arts-related programs” and traced “the history of female impersonators ... back to the Elizabethan age.”
She said the library’s responsibility is “to introduce the community to itself” and emphasized the impact Nina West and West’s family have had in their charitable and community contributions before sharing the American Library Association’s take on the matter.
“The American Library Association states on their bill of rights that libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues; materials should not be prescribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval,” she said.
Selena T. West watched the entire proceedings from the front row of the room.
After the meeting, she said she appreciated “being able to hear people’s thoughts” and “hearing critique” in a “civil” way while also speaking for something she felt so strongly about.
“It felt really important,” she said. “I think right now, we’re living in a time where fear-mongering gets people elected. I thought it was my responsibility to come out and speak out against that if I could.”
For more information, visit DelawareLibrary.org.