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Commissioners, public spar over upcoming drag queen story hour at library

The Lancaster Public Library. (Source: OUL file)

Members of Lancaster County’s LGBTQ+ community and their allies excoriated county commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino at the commissioners’ weekly meeting Wednesday for opposing a drag queen story hour at Lancaster Public Library.

During public comments that lasted more than an hour, 10 speakers took to the podium to tell the commissioners their opposition to the upcoming performance is homophobic and that it encourages hate against LGBTQ+ individuals and makes them less safe.

Parsons and D’Agostino stood their ground, contending the event and performer are patently inappropriate for children; that as community leaders they have the right and duty to express their opinion; and that labeling their statements as “hate” and therefore beyond the pale is an illegitimate stratagem to stifle free speech.

Miss Amie Vanité is the stage name of drag performer Christopher Paul Paolini, whose performance at the library is scheduled for Saturday, May 23. Lancaster Pride is sponsoring the event and paying Miss Amie’s fee.

“Really Lancaster Public Library?” Parsons posted on March 7. “What are you thinking? … Libraries should be places for kids to safely read and learn, not politicized social laboratories for woke ideology.” In a follow-up post, he said advertising for Miss Amie’s over-18 shows indicated “this is clearly an adult type performer” and that opposing the library’s event is “simple commonsense.” Commissioner D’Agostino concurred in a post of his own.

Parsons noted the library is independent of the county but said he would be reaching out to the Library System of Lancaster County, which provides logistical support to member institutions, to see what influence could be exerted to keep such events from taking place.

State House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler chimed in with a statement saying, “The Lancaster Public Library has lost its way … the hyper-sexualization of our children at publicly supported institutions must come to an end.”

The event has also drawn attention and condemnation from conservative and anti-LGBTQ activists including Libs of TikTok and FreePA.

‘Be who you are’

In an interview with One United Lancaster, library Executive Director Lissa Holland said the story hour’s theme is simply “It’s OK to be who you are” and that there is no sexual content.

“It is age-appropriate,” she said, and is fully booked. Miss Amie is trained, has all the relevant state clearances for interacting with children, and staff and parents will be present throughout the event.

Miss Aime Vanité performs at a Drag Queen Story Hour in Hanover in 2022. (Source: Drag Queen Story Hour with Miss Amie)

The online listing says that Miss Amie, a veteran drag performer, launched Pennsylvania’s first official chapter of Drag Queen Story Hour in 2018. It describes the target age group as “Babies, Toddlers, Children, Everyone.”

On Wednesday, members of the public accused the two commissioners of deliberately fomenting public hysteria by inaccurately conflating Miss Amie’s over-18 events and children’s readings.

Performers tailor their shows to their audiences all the time, said Angelique Chelton, a pastor and therapist. She cited Robin Williams as an example, who starred in some of the most beloved family movies of his generation, while also frequently being extremely graphic in his adults-only standup routines.

Pilisa Mackey, a community organizer with Lancaster Changemakers and a performer herself, said she’s proud that the library is hosting the story hour and that the commissioners’ opposition teaches young LGBTQ+ people that they are not welcome.

That feeds into hate and bullying, she said, contributing to the climate that has driven three local trans young people to suicide recently, including most recently, Ash Clatterbuck.

The two commissioners are deliberately playing into the culture wars and fears of diversity, Rachel Helwig said: “Your words have real-life impact.” Ben Cattell Noll said he and his children are planning to attend and can now expect a hostile gauntlet of protesters, which the commissioners are “activating and encouraging.”

“They’re going to shout ‘pedophile, groomer’ … That’s going to scar my kids way more than seeing a drag story hour,” he said.

Parsons and D’Agostino insisted the vast majority of Lancaster County would agree that a performer whose stock in trade is a transgressive adults-only show should not appear in front of small children at a public venue. That’s the core issue, and they have every right to make that case, they said.

“This is not in (keeping with) the public health, welfare and safety of our kids,” D’Agostino said. “We have standards as a community.”

They pointed to an advertisement for one of Miss Aime’s over-18 shows that warns, “nothing about this show is appropriate for your semen demon offspring.”

Someone “objectifying” children in language like that has no business performing at a library, Parsons said: “Is that acceptable to any rational person?” Members of the public said it was for a different event and written by a promoter, not Miss Amie.

The Rev. Joel Saint was the sole attendee to speak in support of D’Agostino and Parsons. He thanked the commissioners for their stance, describing drag queen story hour as “appalling” and the spread of homosexuality and transgenderism as an ongoing threat to the United States.

Saint is pastor of the Independence Reformed Bible Church and board member of the Mid-Atlantic Reformation Society, a conservative Christian group that advocates applying strict Biblical principles “to all of life.” He regularly attends and speaks at the commissioners’ meetings, and had commented earlier in support of Amos Miller, the Amish farmer fighting state regulation of his raw milk operation.

Toward the end of the meeting, Commissioner Alice Yoder, the board’s sole Democrat, spoke up. She said she supports the story hour and agrees such events help normalize the LGBT community and promote mental wellbeing.

She said she hadn’t commented before because she hadn’t thought twice about it until it became a controversy. She said she’s cautious about her public statements, aware of the weight they carry in her role as an elected official.

In a statement, Lancaster Pride said that it “firmly believes in the power of events like Drag Story Hour to promote empathy, compassion, and tolerance within our community.”

“It’s disheartening to see individuals mischaracterize these moments, attempting to undermine the positive impact they have on our community,” the organization said. “It’s crucial that we stand together against those who seek to distort the true nature of these events.”