Because of “veiled threats,” the Delaware County District Library has decided to cancel an event aimed at teens interested in drag – but the course will go on in a new location in Delaware.
The library was set to host Drag 101, a class taught by former Miss Gay Ohio America and local drag queen Selena T. West, who 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, was 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.”
The class had been set to take place at the library’s Orange branch, 7171 Gooding Blvd., from 2 to 3 p.m. Wednesday, June 5.
Despite some residents who spoke against the class at a May 23 board of trustees meeting, it was scheduled to continue as planned as of May 28. But on the morning of Wednesday, May 29, library Director George Needham announced the class would be canceled.
“Our No. 1 priority as a library is to ensure that everyone who walks in our doors feels safe,” he said.
“Our mission statement ensures that we will provide lifelong learning in a friendly environment. Threats of protests, hate and violence stand in direct conflict with that mission and we cannot sacrifice the safety of the public we serve.”
Library spokeswoman Nicole Fowles said the library had received “hundreds” of phone calls and emails about the event since its announcement.
She said a large portion of those calls had come from out of state, and said at one point the calls and emails were “interfering with our librarians’ ability to do their daily jobs.”
Some of those messages, she said, involved threats, which “concerned” library officials.
“A small number of (the phone calls and emails) were hostile,” she said. “A smaller number were veiled threats.”
Fowles said the library had planned to hold the event until May 28, when leaders held a meeting with Delaware County Sheriff Russell Martin.
“When we went into the meeting, he said he shared our concerns, and that was the final decision for us,” she said.
Needham echoed that sentiment.
“The sheriff’s office, which has jurisdiction for the Orange branch library, shares in our concern for the safety of the public and the teens in attendance at this event,” he said.
Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Tracy Whited said the sheriff’s involvement started as a “risk-assessment,” which she said happens “all the time.”
Essentially, she said, someone such as a business owner, school administrator or church leader will call and ask for the assessment. The sheriff’s office will conduct either an assessment of the building or it will assess the security needs for a situation in which a protest or other large gathering is planned, which she said was the case for the library.
“A leader calls and says, ‘We’ve been getting feedback or whatever that there might be some protesters. How much should we be concerned?’ because they don’t deal with it every day,” she said. “So we’re giving them seasoned, expert advice because we do this every day.”
Whited said the sheriff’s office doesn’t “always tell them what to do,” but rather tells them what they’ll need to handle the situation, whether that’s a police presence or another security strategy.
Though threats were mentioned by the library and West, Whited said the sheriff’s office was never made aware of any specific threats.
“They mentioned that on social media there have been death threats,” she said. “We never got anyone to call us and say, ‘I may be a victim’ or ‘I fear for my life.’ We never got any calls for us to look into it.”
Even if they had, she said, it would be “impossible to monitor all of social media” to find the culprit, and nearly as difficult to find who that culprit actually is.
“Not only can we not find it, but people aren’t always who they say they are,” she said. “If there was something that rose to the level of potential telecommunications harassment and we would start looking into it, even with all the technology we have, there are bogus accounts. People can set up an account, make these horrific comments and then take it all down.”
Fowles said no one took joy in the library’s decision to cancel the event.
“It really does break our hearts,” she said.
But not all is lost for teens who still wish to learn about drag.
West said May 28 the Drag 101 class now will take place from 2 to 3 p.m. June 5 at Secret Identity Comics, 34 N. Franklin St. in Delaware.
“The owner of that shop approached me,” West said. “He was one of the people who spoke at the board meeting in favor of the program and was really for it for all the teens to get involved and learn about the building blocks of what drag is.”
West said she is “concerned” about safety during the event, but added organizers were “taking steps to make sure everything is safe.”
Asked how she reacted to the news, West said she feels acceptance of those in her community is still improving, despite the cancellation.
“I do think it’s getting better,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like it right now because this small amount of people have the larger voices; that’s really unfortunate. But I really do think it’s getting better.”