Drag Queen Story Hour at the Paperback Exchange in Port Richey, Florida came to an abrupt ending July 2019 amidst growing security concerns. Drag Queen Story Hour volunteers, who are members of Pasco Pride were politely but firmly asked to find another venue.
Bookstore owner, Joan Hepsworth, verbalized her support for the event by suggesting the change would be positive long-term in light of limited space at the bookstore, and unease for the safety of the children and their parents.
While participants had been enjoying story time monthly for the past nine months, a seething group of protestors were growing increasingly vocal at the actual events and behind the scenes to government officials.
Transgender drag queen story-teller Stephanie Stuart was dismayed but not surprised at the negative turn of events. She pointed to ongoing misunderstandings of overall motives.
“We’ve been accused of grooming children to bring them into the LGBTQ community.” Stuart, who refutes this perception, instead points to a sincere desire to teach children a love of reading, self-esteem and confidence.
Ray French, 47, of Tampa Florida explained to yc.news why he attended with son, Aidan, 11.
“I took my child to Drag Queen Story Hour to show him people in the world can be different. We do not need to be afraid of them simply because our opinions do not line up exactly,” French revealed.
“It’s demonstrating what inclusion really means, and this is a lesson my son must learn to prepare for his education and vocational future.” Aidan seemed to absorb the intended message, noting: “I’m really glad my daddy took me. It’s okay for people to be different.”
Pasco Pride Vice President Anthony Avila claimed to have already been in the process of looking for a new location before Paperback Exchange gave them the boot.
Avila further explained to yc.news that the space at the bookstore was too small to accommodate the growing number of attendees. Organizers chose to move Drag Queen Story Hour to Peace Hall, adjacent to Sims Park in New Port Richey, but they found yet another impediment after city officials informed organizers that a special events permit was required.
Nina Borders, president of Pasco Pride, viewed this special permit requirement—which is generally reserved for large scale events such as festivals—to be onerous, discriminatory and entirely unnecessary, particularly given the small number of story hour participants.
“We’re here. We want to be treated equally. We want to be treated fair. All we want to be able to do is reserve this peace hall venue like any other organization does,” Borders told yc.news.
The impasse between Pasco Pride and conservative members of the community was apparent as they passionately expressed themselves during subsequent City Council Meetings.
Calvary Chapel Worship Center pastor Dick Maxwell was direct when expressing his sentiments to the council members. “Basically, when you have somebody, a man, dressing up, even taking hormones to look like a woman, that man is acting out sexually,” he said. “It might not be copulating, per se, in front of child, but he is acting out sexually.”
Resident Deb Maxwell expressed religious concerns and possible gender confusion in young children for her anti-Drag Queen Story Time point of view. “That’s a sexual thing with a drag queen. It’s a man. A man from birth,” said Maxwell.
Nevertheless, officials remained adamant that the gathering requires a “special events permit.”
Undeterred by opposing opinions and bureaucratic red tape, Drag Queen Story Hour organizers quietly forged ahead. On August 18, they held a secret invite only story hour event at the New Port Richey Public Library. The event boasted a larger than normal crowd of 37 people who were undistracted by the drama of protestors.
This is actually a happy ending, according to Anthony Avila, who looks forward to future private story hour events.
“We actually have found through this whole process that because of the protesters, this event is best private and it’s our hope to always keep it that way.”