Politics & Government

Library board can’t agree on sex crime checks proposed after drag queen story event

A proposal to background-check people for past sex offenses before they are allowed to make presentations at Wichita libraries was put on hold Tuesday, after a split in the board between those who want a complete ban on sex offenders and those who want staff to have some leeway.

The policy originated in a backlash against a drag queen story time almost a year ago at the Advanced Learning Library and has been criticized by the leader of the LGBT-rights group Equality Kansas.

It was apparent from the comments at Tuesday’s meeting that there is strong consensus on the library board that prospective program presenters should be screened through a national web site listing sex offenders.

But that consensus broke down over the issue of how much discretion the staff should have in allowing past sex offenders to participate in library presentations.

Board members were split between those who said registered sex offenders should be automatically disqualified from ever giving a talk at the library, and those who said it should be allowable in some circumstances.

On a motion from board Chairman Kevin McWhorter, the board voted to send the policy back to its operations committee for further revision.

Board member Lamont Anderson Sr. referenced a long list of sex crimes covered by the proposed policy including rape, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated sodomy, solicitation of prostitution and lewd and lascivious conduct.

“To me, some of these, they’re just hard noes,” Anderson said. “It’s not someone I would want presenting to my granddaughter. That’s just me being truthful.

“When you don’t have a locked-down policy at certain times, you sometimes can create a slippery slope where something gets through the cracks.”

But board member Jonathan Winkler argued that standards for inclusion in the offender registry vary from state to state and that a zero tolerance policy could wrongly ban an ordinary gay person for consensual same-sex conduct that was once illegal but no longer is.

“We wanted to give staff the flexibility to work around situations like that,” he said, speaking through a sign-language interpreter.

Library Director Cynthia Berner said allowing sex offenders to present to children would be a non-starter for her and the staff. But she said it might be OK to include a former sex offender in an adults-only discussion about the criminal justice system.

Several speakers, including the anti-LGBT pastor who suggested the idea of background checks to the board, urged the members to delay passing the policy and use the time to make it more strict.

Pastor Craig Coffey, who leads a small congregation in Derby, said the board erred earlier in passing a policy that appears to allow drag queen story hours like the “Say YAAAS to Reading” event that drew a standing-room-only crowd at the library last year.

The event brought about 220 adults and their children to watch men who were dressed and made up as women read from LGBT-sympathetic children’s books.

Coffey demanded a stronger backgrounding policy and spoke out against the drag queens.

“Numerous incidents are being reported (nationwide) involving inappropriate contact between drag queen story hour participants and innocent children,” he said. “Those of us opposing these types of ill-advised programming policies are not surprised, as we see this as a natural consequence of the LGBTQ agenda as it is directed toward progressive liberal indoctrination of our children.”

Rexy.jpg
Rexy Que, vice president of the Wichita Transgender and Community Network, addresses the library board about a proposed policy on background checks inspired by a drag queen story time at the library. Dion Lefler The Wichita Eagle

Rexy Que, a recent Wichita State University graduate and a leader of the Wichita Transgender and Community Network, suggested that the library board should drop the list of sex crimes from the proposed policy.

“I think by saying sex offenses, it’s pretty clear what we mean, you don’t need to list them,” Que said. “But also, this is only about half of the different sex offenses that are actually in Kansas law . . . I just don’t think it’s necessary. I don’t think it adds anything to the policy.”

Que also suggested that violent felonies in general should be added to the policy, which now is limited to only sex crimes.

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