Suzanne Perez Tobias

Yaaaaaas! Proposed policy for Wichita library allows drag queen events — and many others

Drag queens draw standing-room crowd at Wichita library

Drag queens drew more than 200 people Tuesday to the downtown Wichita library for a picture-book story time.
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Drag queens drew more than 200 people Tuesday to the downtown Wichita library for a picture-book story time.

Update: The Wichita library board of directors approved the proposed policy Tuesday by a vote of 8-2.

Last fall, the Wichita library hosted “Say YAAAS to Reading,” an event that featured drag queens reading picture books.

It drew about 220 people to the downtown library, including families with young children.

It also drew protests — on the evening of the event as well as during the weeks and months to follow.

On Tuesday, the library’s board of directors will consider a new programming policy that plainly and bravely states the library’s commitment to “free and open access to information and ideas for all users.” The proposed policy appears to leave the door open for future drag queen events, though none is scheduled.

To quote local drag queens Divinity Masters, Starla Nyte and Juju Noir:

Yaaaaaaas.

The proposed policy, inspired by the American Library Association’s “Library Bill of Rights,” stresses the library’s role as a forum for intellectual freedom, where a wide spectrum of thoughts and ideas are welcome. It further notes that library programs, like library materials, should not be censored just because some customers might disagree with them.

“Decisions to provide programs will not be made on the basis of any anticipated approval or disapproval,” Wichita’s draft policy states, “but solely on the merits of the program in serving the interests of Library customers.”

The guidelines go on to say, “Performers and presenters will not be excluded from consideration because of their origin, background or views, or because of possible controversy.”

Library officials explained last fall that they scheduled the drag queen event to diversify program offerings and appeal to groups that may not be active users of the library, including the LGBTQ community. The event was promoted for adult audiences and held in a private conference room, but children were allowed if accompanied by a parent or guardian.

It’s true that a drag queen story time might not appeal to everyone. But for those who oppose drag queens in general or don’t want to see one reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” or “Red: A Crayon Story,” the solution is simple:

Don’t go.

People have the right to boycott or protest events based on their personal beliefs. Parents have the right to make decisions on behalf of their children, including limiting what they see, do or read.

But public libraries are designed for the public — a glorious spectrum of ages, races, backgrounds, abilities and points of view — and just because you disagree with something doesn’t mean the library shouldn’t have or host it.

Search the Wichita library’s materials collection, and you’ll find “The Communist Manifesto,” “Mein Kampf” and “The Origin of the Species.” You’ll see the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy and Madonna’s “Sex” book, a collection of erotic photographs that sparked protests in 1992.

You’ll find “The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama and an assortment of books by conservative commentator Ann Coulter, including “Adios, America! The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country Into a Third World Hellhole.”

In other words, something for everyone.

Wichita’s library board should approve the proposed program guidelines and ensure the library remains a place where ideas flow freely and all are welcome.

Suzanne Perez Tobias, who has covered news in Wichita for nearly 30 years, writes editorials and opinion columns for The Eagle. An avid reader, she also oversees The Eagle’s books coverage and coordinates the annual #ReadICT Challenge. She can be reached at 316-268-6567.

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