A lawmaker in Missouri has proposed legislation that would strip public libraries of state funding if they hosted Drag Queen Story Hour events.
Authored by state Rep. Ben Baker, the “Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act” would also allow for librarians to be fined or jailed if such events were held.
Baker is forthcoming about his opposition to drag queens reading to children telling the Kansas City Star, “They’ve had these drag queen story hours and that’s something I take objection to and I think a lot of parents do.”
“That’s where in a public space, our kids could be exposed to something that’s age-inappropriate,” he added. “That’s what I’m trying to tackle.”
Baker’s bill would require each library to create five-person panels, or oversight boards, which would hold public hearings and decide what ‘material’ is age-appropriate.
Librarians who went ahead with events deemed ‘inappropriate’ by the board could be fined $500 and sentenced to a year in jail.
Baker alleges children seeing drag queens might lead to questions or a conversation with parents about ‘adult themes’ that parents may not feel ready to have.
But Cynthia Dudenhoffer, president of the Missouri Library Association, says oversight already exists in the form of a board of trustees elected or appointed by the community.
In an official statement, Dudenhoffer objected to the proposed legislation calling it “censorship.”
What’s missing from Baker’s view on the issue is attendance at Drag Queen Story Hours is all completely voluntary. No one is forcing children to attend such events.
Local performers are already planning to protest the legislation in the state’s capital on March 7.
Tanner Rambo, a Springfield promoter who represents two drag queens organizing the protest, told the Springfield News-Leader, “This kind of bill is just bad policy.”
“You’re talking about people in big, goofy dresses telling stories in funny voices and trying to get kids interested in reading, which I think we should all want,” said Rambo.
He added, “If you want to disagree philosophically, you can. Don’t go. These aren’t things people are mandated to attend.”
Rambo also notes that Baker has a history of anti-LGBTQ animus having proposed legislation that would allow adoption agencies to turn away gay couples looking to adopt if doing so offended their ‘sincerely held beliefs.’
The Star reports that while Kansas City’s public library hasn’t held Drag Queen Story Hours, such events at St. Louis public libraries are among the most popular with hundreds attending.
I have to add that I agree with Mr. Rambo. The point of Drag Queen Story Hours is to encourage children to suspend belief and explore their imagination while embracing a message of diversity and acceptance.
The American Library Association has fully endorsed these types of programs, in any iteration, as a right to intellectual freedom. They have even curated a collection of resources for individuals seeking to bring Drag Queen Storytime to their libraries or community spaces.