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United Way of Lancaster County


Controversy continues at commissioners’ meetings over Drag Story Hour

At left, ‘Miss Amie’ conducts a Drag Queen Story Hour in Hanover. At right, the Lancaster County commissioners: Alice Yoder, Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino. (Source: OUL file photos)

Opponents of the upcoming Drag Story Hour at the Lancaster Public Library expressed their outrage to the Lancaster County commissioners this week, saying the event is harmful to children and contrary to norms of public decency endorsed by the majority of the community.

Supporters of the event also had their say, as they did last week, saying parents are free to bring their children to the event or not, as they choose; that it fosters tolerance and acceptance and that opponents are promoting hate and discrimination.

The library is scheduled this Saturday to host Miss Amie Vanité, the stage persona of Christopher Paul Paolini. Publicity around the event, including social media posts and media appearances by commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino, has sparked a firestorm of controversy.

That in turn has led to a surge in sign-ups and the library has added a second session to accommodate them. Lancaster Pride paid for the first one; an anonymous donor funded the second one, library Executive Director Lissa Holland said.

Lancaster Pride and Lucy Gillichbauer have both obtained city event permits to gather near the library on Saturday. Lancaster Pride will assemble in Ewell Plaza to support families attending the event. Gillichbauer is planning a prayer and worship event across the street in Ewell Plaza. (Update: LNP reported Friday that Gillichbauer has relinquished her permit.)

On Tuesday and Wednesday, opponents of the story hour said they were appalled that the library would host such an event. Many couched their objections in religious terms.

Until “five minutes ago,” it was understood that exposing children to sexual material was wrong, Anthony Diehl said at Wednesday’s meeting. “In order to love what is good,” he said, “you have to hate what is evil.”

“Do not confuse God’s silence with his permission,” said Mary Ellen Caris. “God will not be mocked.”

Pastor Jeremy Metze quoted from a pro-Drag Queen Story Hour academic article, “Drag Pedagogy: The playful practice of queer imagination in early childhood,” to make the case that it teaches young children, prematurely and inappropriately, “that their identities are sexual” and is part of a larger cultural trend that deems any restraint on self-expression to be harmful.

Pastor Joel Saint quoted from an op-ed by gay conservative Chad Felix Greene, “Drag Is Never Appropriate for Kids.” “We cannot identify as whatever we want,” Saint said. Transgenderism, he said, is “a hate crime itself against God, who created them male and female.”

Supporters of the event said it helps young people, and especially young LGBTQ people, understand that it’s OK to be yourself.

Laura Sabatini said that despite a conservative Christian upbringing, “I still turned out to be queer.” D’Agostino’s and Parsons’ public comments, she said, have been hateful and bigoted and are hurting LGBTQ+ youth.

Pastor Angelique Chelton cited CDC research showing that LGBTQ youth are at heightened risk of harassment and bullying and that intentionally creating safe spaces helps to protect them. She asked the commissioners to use their public influence to encourage peace and respect on Saturday, and to show up themselves.

Drake Naylor said he’s a drag performer himself. He can’t speak for all of them, he said, but many would agree “the only belief we hope to instill in children is that they matter and they deserve a kind and safe world.”

Speaking both at Tuesday’s work session and Wednesday’s regular meeting, Liesa Berwell-Perry warned that emotions are running high, threats are being made, and she’s concerned about the potential for violence on Saturday. When Parsons told her to report any threats to law enforcement, she assured him she has.

A spokeswoman for the Lancaster city police said the bureau is planning ahead. She declined to disclose details, but said, “The public can rest assured that the police bureau is fully prepared to respond promptly and effectively to any situation that arises.”

Commissioner Alice Yoder, the sole Democrat on the board of commissioners, said she will be present on Saturday. Three young transgender people in Lancaster County have recently committed suicide: It’s devastating, she said, and “a lot of it has to do with stigma and the words that are being used throughout the community.” She said she supports the LGBTQ+ community “100%.”

D’Agostino said he stands by the views he expressed in the March 11 letter he wrote to the Lancaster Public Library. It’s not appropriate to expose children to someone who does adult performances, he said; that used to be the consensus and for most people it still is. Saying so doesn’t warrant demonizing him, he said, or ascribing to him views he doesn’t hold.

When you hold a “radical event,” you have to expect pushback, Parsons said.
“This is clearly not appropriate for a public venue,” he said.

Residents question LBTQ+ drop-in, story hour policies

During the discussion at Tuesday’s county work session of Lancaster Public Library’s upcoming Drag Story Hour, resident Danielle Lindemuth complained about another LGBTQ+ event at the library: A monthly “Supportive Space” drop-in hosted by Lititz Chooses Love. It falls under the library’s overall policy for minors, which is that ages 11 and under must be accompanied by a caregiver age 14 or over. (Though the event listing does not mention it, the library’s policy also requires children under 14 to have a parent or guardian in the library.)

That means one minor could bring a younger one to the drop-in without parental consent, potentially for a “sexual conversation” with someone who isn’t a trained counselor, said Lindemuth, an Elizabethtown Area School Board member and FreePA member. Children under 18 should have to secure parental permission, she said.

Lucy Gillichbauer, who is organizing a prayer gathering in Binns Park on Saturday, told the commissioners she has applied to the library to conduct a story hour around Brave Books, a line of “pro-God, pro-America” children’s books, but has yet to hear if it’s been approved.

Library Executive Director Lissa Holland said Gillichbauer’s application is being evaluated, and that it takes time. It is not being treated any differently than any other, she said.

Lititz Chooses Love spokeswoman Minnie Nguyen said the library drop-ins let young people learn about the nonprofit’s services.

“Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community is not inherently sexual,” she said, “and we are not having conversations with kids and teens about sex.” Rather, she said, they talk about things like the organization’s food pantry, clothing closet, karaoke nights and social groups.

“We are committed to providing resources and safe spaces to the LGBTQ+ community, and the Safe Space Initiative is an extension of that,” she said.