'Drag Story Time' pulled from library schedule

TIM JEAN/File photoThe Taylor Library in East Derry, N.H.

DERRY  — A "Drag Story Time" event planned at Taylor Library has been canceled amid a massive controversy that played out on social media in recent days.

The event was to feature Michael McMahon performing as "Clara," his drag name.

McMahon's presentations offer "an hour dedicated to teaching children the meaning of what it's like to be prideful," including stories about acceptance, according to his social media page. 

In a statement posted online, Taylor Library Director Jen Thielker said she booked the event without the consultation of library staff or trustees.

"I realize now that it is a matter that should have been more carefully considered with the assistance of other decision-makers due to its divisive nature," Thielker said in her statement. "The decision to host the event rests solely with me and as such I have made the sole decision to move it to a private venue."

Plans for the story time brought much backlash from the community and beyond.

Many spoke out in support of the event.

That included Derry Town Council Chairman Jim Morgan.

"Derry is most certainly not what it is being portrayed it is in the media or online," Morgan said "The bigotry of those that opposed this event is not what our community stands for and this now lays at their feet."

Others commented on social media, welcoming the inclusive nature of the story hour, and supporting the Taylor Library's plan to bring sessions of acceptance to children.

Others were against the story time, including Derry Republican state Rep. Katherine Prudhomme-O'Brien and Lorraine Lindenberg, a trustee at both Taylor Library and Derry Public Library. 

Prudhomme-O'Brien said in Thielker's role as library director, it's her job to work with trustees who represent the interest of the public and the voters.

"The will of the public can be known to them when they communicate their concerns to trustees by contacting them or attending board of trustee meetings," Prudhomme-O'Brien said. "They had not been given the opportunity to do that and that was wrong. I'm glad director Thielker agreed with that opinion and changed course."

For Lindenberg, it was the response from many residents in town who called or emailed her to voice opposition to what she called "a controversial issue."

"I respect any person's right to live as they chose and would have been open to meeting the young man to allow him to discuss his program plans in a public meeting," she said. "Then the board and public could have voiced their approval or concerns to decide if this event would be appropriate for their children and wanted to attend."

Lindenberg added she ran for a position on the Taylor Board of Trustees to represent the residents of Derry.

"Because our new director thought there would be no harm done to our library she scheduled the drag story time without consulting the Board of Trustees to allow us and the public to voice our opinions on this event." she said.

The controversy coincides with LGBTQ Pride Month, an event celebrated across the country each June.

Derry town councilors supported an effort to honor the month of June as Pride Month in the community. A Pride Month banner is on display in the lobby at the Derry Municipal Center and will continue to be throughout the month.

Morgan, as Council chairman, read a proclamation at a meeting June 1, stating the community "supports the rights of every citizen to experience equality and freedom from discrimination," and "it's appropriate to celebrate the accomplishments of the LGBTQ community's efforts to secure rights and freedoms after many struggles and adversity."

Morgan added that this is the first time Derry has acknowledge Pride Month, supporting diversity and inclusiveness among the community's 34,000 residents, but said it's unfortunate the story time was canceled while many cheered about the cancellation on Facebook.

For Morgan, what he witnessed on social media is not what he feels Derry is all about.

"Hatred of any race or sexual orientation is not a badge of honor to wear," he said. "We need to do better." 

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