Despite worrying messages about violent protests, a Drag Queen Story Hour at the Astoria Library proceeded calmly on Saturday morning, with over 100 adults and children in attendance.
The event’s primary critic, Miles Rudduck of Warrenton, stood outside during the reading with three other men.
Earlier in the week, Rudduck announced on social media that he planned to peacefully protest, but also indicated to library staff and Astoria police that violent protests could be possible from others, according to Police Chief Geoff Spalding.
But no violent protests erupted and attendance surpassed a similar reading last summer.
“It’s fine, everything went well,” Jimmy Pearson, the library’s director, said. “Everyone seems to be happy.”
Though Rudduck, wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat, livestreamed videos for his Facebook page, proclaiming his view that the reading was harmful to children, none of the men with him carried signs or spoke openly about their concerns. They did not interact with a crowd of people who supported the event, nor did they talk to Marco Davis, a community volunteer who did the reading in his drag persona, “Miss Daylight.”
None of the men went inside the library to try to hear the reading.
“We used to protect the children,” Rudduck said on one of his livestreams, “now we protect the men. It’s upside down.”
Not sure what to expect, Spalding attended the event himself, out of uniform, along with Kenny Hansen, the police department’s homeless liaison officer, and other city leaders, including Mayor Bruce Jones and City Manager Brett Estes.
A dozen friends escorted Davis to the library. Some also made small buttons for people to wear that asked, “WWDD,” or “What would Daylight do?”
“Be like Daylight,” one friend posted on Facebook ahead of the reading, “focus on the love, bring the light, don’t feed the hate.”
Adults who attended only to support Davis and the library waited outside the Flag Room to make sure children and their parents were able to get seats. Some of the kids dressed up as princesses and unicorns.
More supporters remained in the main lobby and outside the library for the duration of the reading.
To protect the minors, the library did not allow people to record or take pictures inside. Pearson gave parents a chance to take pictures of their children with Davis if they wanted.
Jessie Weis, of Astoria, attended a similar event at the library last year. She wasn’t originally planning to go to the reading Saturday until she heard people planned to protest and were writing about Davis and the event in terms she considered “hate speech.”
“Hate has nothing to do about being a Christian,” she said.
Vivian Battjes, of Gearhart, and Sheila Forte, of Astoria, were not part of Rudduck’s protest but attended because they believe a man dressed as a woman reading to children sends a confusing and possibly harmful message. Sexual and gender preference are adult decisions that come with different health risks, and young children are very impressionable, they said.
“It’s one thing to make a choice for yourself in regards to gender and sexual preference, it’s another thing to include children and influence them,” Forte said, adding that she was not judgmental of parents who chose to let their children attend, just concerned.
Battjes had asked the library if a religious group could come in and do a story hour, perhaps with someone dressed as a biblical character. She was told she could not. Pearson spoke with Battjes at the event and plans to talk to her again about the options. In general, libraries cannot host political or religious events, he said.
For Estes, the event was a success for free speech.
“It didn’t devolve into arguing or fighting on either side,” he said afterward. People who had concerns were able to express them and attend alongside the many people who supported the event.
“That’s what you want — is for that dialogue to occur,” he said.
A number of parents said their children had attended and enjoyed last year’s reading with Davis. One woman said her daughter dressed up in a princess dress as Daylight for days afterward to hold read-aloud story times with her siblings.
Last year, the story hour was one of the library’s most popular events. There was no public outcry or any protests.
Pearson is not sure why the reading, advertised in a similar way as it was last year, garnered so much negative attention this year. The library received messages and calls from people who were concerned. Pearson said the people who were the most adamant that the library should shut down the reading live outside of Astoria.
Drag queen story hours, programs intended to promote reading and literacy, are rising in popularity across the country. Many libraries have faced pushback from some in their communities over the events, but most have chosen to proceed anyway.
In Astoria, the City Council defended the event, calling it an important way to encourage diversity.
Davis read three picture books on Saturday, chosen from a list of suggestions compiled by Suzanne Harold, the children’s librarian: “Julian Is A Mermaid,” by Jessica Love, about a boy who sees people dressed up as mermaids and is inspired to make his own costume; “Neither,” by Airlie Anderson, about a land where blue bunnies and yellow birds stick to their own kind until one day a green bird with rabbit ears is hatched and must find a new place to call home; and the children’s classic “Elmer,” by David McKee, about an elephant with a conspicuous multicolored patchwork hide.