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How an Unrealized Drag Queen Event Caused a Library to Close  

Drag Queen Story Hour was revealed in April. After a flurry of protests, the library had to close by September. It hasn’t reopened yet. 

In the suburban region of New York lies Luzerne, a quaint hillside town of historic clapboard houses. Dominated by a winding main street, it hosts a turn-of-the-century church and a public library, which offers internet access, a food pantry, and biweekly storytelling hours for children. 

Last April, the library announced adding a Drag Queen Story Hour to its children’s lineup. 

“We knew it would likely be controversial,” recalled Amanda Hoffman, the library’s director of youth services. “We just didn’t anticipate how intense it would become.” 

In the following months, a bomb threat was called into the library, a board meeting ended in fisticuffs, and the stress became so overwhelming that Ms. Hoffman was hospitalized due to stress-induced vertigo. Neighbors accused each other of being “fascist” or “predators” and complaints of harassment, threats, and intimidation arose. 

The Drag Queen Story Hour never took place. 

Eventually, amidst the decline, most of the library’s staff and trustees resigned, leading to its closure. After 53 years of operation, the library, named after a nearby landmark Rockwell Falls, stopped lending books on September 26. 

Neighbors, having grown up together, were astonished that their tranquil rural town of around 1,400 inhabitants, located about an hour’s drive north of Albany, had become a national battleground over issues like inclusion, free speech, and funding for organizations. 

Local politician Josh Jaikward, who led the campaign against Drag Queen Story Hour and later successfully ran for a seat on the library board, said, “A culture war has arrived in Hadley-Luzerne School District, and the culture wars are escalating.” He vowed to keep “distorted” books and programs out of children’s sections. 

He remarked, “Wherever there are cultural wars, there are voices that want to fight it to the death. But the problem with fighting to the death is that everyone loses.” 

Drag Queen Story Hours, where a drag performer typically reads to children, began formally in 2015 in San Francisco’s Castro district when author Michelle T. sought “more eclectic programming for her kids at the public library.” Jonathan Hamilton, executive director of non-profit Drag Story Hour, which organizes many such events nationwide, though not all, commented on the escalating criticism libraries faced in recent years over LGBTQ-themed books for children. 

He mentioned that after a bomb threat at the library in September, Drag Queen Story Hour in Brooklyn was relocated. Identified members of the distant group Proud Boys have disrupted the hours in New York, California, Maryland, Ohio, and elsewhere. 

In economically stressed Luzerne, in the Southern Adirondacks, three library employees began planning a Drag Queen Story Hour at the end of 2022, consulting with the Vermont chapter of Drag Story Hour about how to safely implement it. The library’s annual budget is $220,000; they pledged $400 for the drag queen. 

Ms. Hoffman, then a library clerk, said, “It was supposed to be a celebration of who you are, however you appear. It was an important part of us.” 

Adhering to the Drag Story Hour protocol, the library refrained from promoting the program a week before the designated date. Yet on April 8, they posted on Facebook about the event, describing it as an opportunity for “participation in cultural development.” 

Both supporters and opponents flooded in with comments. 

Three days later, dozens of angered residents submitted items at a regular meeting of the Library Board of Trustees. As the board conducted unrelated business, Mr. Jaikward, who leads the Victory Bible Baptist Church in nearby Porter Corner, demanded that he and other residents be heard. The church describes homosexuality on its website as “abominable and detestable.” 

The father of three children, 35-year-old Mr. Jaikward, prepared with statistics and arguments, calling it a “Transvestite Story Hour,” using a term many now find objectionable. He told trustees, “You’ve done something that’s an affront to this library’s integrity, and you’re endangering our children.” 

He stated that the intent of Drag Queen Story Hour was to “indoctrinate our children into an overly sexualized lifestyle and way of thinking.” He continued, “When you start bringing this into our children’s lives, the members of this community come out in force.” 

**Library Controversy: A Deeper Look** 

Several attendees accused the library of promoting “sanitization”, sexual blasphemy, and even Marxism. Some asked, “Why not Firefighter Story Hour or State Trooper Story Hour?” 

Zed Ed, a 38-year-old lifelong resident of Lake Luzerne, was among those who spoke in favor of Drag Story Hour. He described it as a theatrical event featuring a character in costume, not a sexual display. Later, he expressed feeling disheartened by the homophobic and extremist views he had heard, views he believed had been long left behind. 

Two days later, the library suspended the program indefinitely, yet the community’s anger persisted. 

Much of the backlash targeted three women who were library staff. Ms. Hoffman revealed derogatory labels attached to her like “sanitizing”, “pedophile”, and “child abuser”. She identifies as non-binary and queer but hadn’t revealed this in the library. She lamented, “Someone prayed for Satan to leave my soul.” 

Jake Evans, studying for a Master’s in Business Administration, acted as Scarlett Sagamore in the program. Evans, a gay man who isn’t transgender, shared his struggles with depression and anxiety due to not fitting typical expectations. With Drag Story Hour, he aimed to show kids that they could lead fulfilling lives regardless of their differences. 

Critics accused the library—supported by a trust of one million dollars—of advancing a LGBTQ+ agenda using children. 

Aaron Redder, a 50-year-old communications consultant, likened kids’ involvement in such discussions to being trapped in a large intellectual spider web. He questioned why children were being introduced to adult themes. The story was only showcased for a day, but not everyone felt it was necessary. 

Evans and Hoffman faced online death threats. Concerns arose about how library funds were spent. The three women ensured that no one worked alone anymore. 

Yet, another response to the library’s controversy emerged. Residents formed the Hudson Queer Alliance and organized the city’s first pride event, where a drag queen from the library’s area was included. 

Jake Howard amplified his opposition by posting a campaign video, accusing library staff of imposing values from cities like San Francisco and New York. Despite the program’s cancellation a month later, he won a seat on the library board. 

In his first public meeting, Howard requested a list of all books bought by the library that promoted LGBTQ+ lifestyles. Many praised his initiative. 

Protectors began requesting more information under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking clarity on every penny spent by the library. Kathleen Jones, a retired schoolteacher, noted an increase in complaints about peculiar-themed books and felt the board wasn’t shielding the library staff from aggressive protectors. 

Board meetings became increasingly contentious. Howard frequently clashed with Jones and library manager, Courtney Keir, accusing them of neglecting the library and community needs. Jones once called the police on Howard for harassing another board member. However, when officers arrived, no action was taken. Jones didn’t respond to interview requests. 

A trustee resigned in June, citing that Howard had made library operations impossible. 

Howard felt vilified, recounting threats to his family. He stated, “I’ve been betrayed. Unwanted visitors came to my home. People harassed my wife and children.” He installed a security system and gave pepper spray to his kids for protection. 

By September, after another heated board meeting, both Hoffman and Keir resigned, leaving the library in the hands of a lone clerk, who struggled to keep it running. As the new school year began, the library closed its doors, suspending all programs. 

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