Astoria Mayor Bruce Jones and the City Council defended a Drag Queen Story Hour planned for the Astoria Library after two men from Warrenton said Monday they were concerned the event would be harmful to children.
The reading is scheduled for this weekend.
“It’s good for all of us to be exposed to people who are different from us, who we might not understand,” City Councilor Joan Herman said.
There is nothing offensive about the reading — “unless you’re offended by men dressing in a dress,” she said.
Herman pointed out that the event will be held in the library’s Flag Room, a closed space away from the main part of the library. If parents don’t want their children to participate, they can easily bypass the event and still use the library.
Drag queen story hours, where a man dressed as a woman reads to children, have become popular at libraries across the country. But they have also been controversial. Many libraries have gone ahead with the readings despite protests.
Last year, a drag queen story hour was one of the Astoria Library’s most popular and well-attended events.
Marco Davis, the performer who will be reading to children on Saturday, grew up in Astoria and is a dedicated community volunteer, Herman and other city councilors said.
City Councilor Tom Brownson said he trusted Library Director Jimmy Pearson’s judgment and thanked him “for allowing diversity to flourish.”
Last year’s event, which occurred during the city’s celebration of Pride Week, was advertised on the library’s Facebook page and triggered no outcry in the community, Pearson said. This year’s event was promoted in the same way.
Pearson is not sure what changed.
Library staff have received a number of calls and messages about the event in recent weeks. The more passionate and, at times, concerning objections have mostly come from people who do not live in Astoria.
Pearson plans to proceed with the reading, but is taking precautions to ensure it is safe for everyone. He has kept city leaders updated and is in communication with the Astoria Police Department.
Both Pearson and Police Chief Geoff Spalding have spoken with the event’s primary opponent, Warrenton resident Miles Rudduck.
Rudduck has been active on social media, campaigning against the event. He has told his followers he wants to end the event peacefully.
Rudduck spoke in opposition to the reading event on Monday, but left City Hall quickly and did not hear the council’s response to his comments. The other man who opposed the event stayed to listen.
“I understand it’s about diversity and welcoming people into our community and making children feel safe. I’m totally 100 percent in agreement with that,” Rudduck said.
His problem seemed primarily to be with where searches of drag queens might lead people, the life of an 11-year-old self-described “drag kid” from New York City and what message the event, overall, might send to children.
City Councilor Jessamyn West, who supports the event, said it was difficult to hear the assumptions that were being made. One man had said the library would never allow a representative of the Ku Klux Klan to speak to children, but they would allow a drag queen.
West said that, unlike the KKK, none of the performers involved in the reading will be passing on a message of hate. But she thanked the two men for coming and voicing their concerns.
“We are here to listen to every side,” she said.