The board that oversees Lafayette’s public library system hasn’t signaled its intentions concerning a “Drag Queen Story Time” for children that’s generated heated controversy and drawn national attention, but the board’s president said Friday he doesn’t plan to interfere.
Joseph Gordon-Wiltz, who serves as president of the Lafayette Public Library Board of Control, is an appointee of Mayor-President Joel Robideaux. On Tuesday, Robideaux said he “will be discussing cancellation of the event.” However, that discussion had not happened as of Friday morning, Gordon-Wiltz said in an interview, adding he’s “not sure if and when it will.”
If it doesn’t, Gordon-Wiltz said he won’t interfere with the library’s plans.
“I personally have no intention of placing any item related to this matter on the agenda,” Gordon-Wiltz said. “I think most if not all the board members completely support the staff and director. We have full faith and confidence in those folks.”
Drag Queen Story Time entails a group of male University of Louisiana at Lafayette students reading books to young children while dressed in women’s clothing. Library staff will select the books, which are to be appropriate for children ages three to six. It is scheduled for Oct. 6 at the main branch downtown.
The event is like those happening in other cities, but the students putting it on say their effort is not affiliated with the others.
Gordon-Wiltz, the board president, noted that his position is unique in that he is the only one appointed by an individual. The City-Parish Council collectively appoints the other seven members. As such, Gordon-Wiltz said, he feels duty bound to represent Robideaux’s agenda, even if he doesn’t personally see eye to eye with the mayor-president.
Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux wants the public library to cancel Drag Queen Story Time, an event that stirred instant controversy o…
“I should be his mouthpiece on this matter, but I don’t want to give the impression that I completely endorse everything he said in that press release Tuesday,” Gordon-Wiltz said.
In addition to discussing cancellation, Robideaux said he would ask the board to review “its programming and approval process for taxpayer funded events.” The board must ensure programming is “both appropriate and serves the needs of Lafayette Parish,” Robideaux said.
He also encouraged council members to contact other library board members as he planned to contact Gordon-Wiltz, his appointee to the board.
The statement further implied the event could jeopardize public support for the historically popular library system.
Gordon-Wiltz declined to be specific when asked what part of Robideaux’s statement he doesn’t endorse. Although he said he would comply with any directive by Robideaux to place the matter on the agenda, Gordon-Wiltz didn’t respond directly when asked what he would do if Robideaux instructed him to vote against it.
“I don’t plan at all to compromise myself in how I vote,” Gordon-Wiltz said. “I don’t plan to impugn the dignity of any citizen of the Parish of Lafayette.”
Robideaux did not respond to a query on Friday.
The issue exploded over the weekend after the library published an item in its newsletter, describing Drag Queen Story Time as “an afternoon of books, songs and activities.” The stories will center on “individuality, openness and acceptance,” the newsletter states.
The library director, Teresa Elberson, notified board members of the newsletter item in a Friday, Aug. 17, email. Social media had lit up by the following Monday, and City-Parish Council chambers were at capacity for the regular Tuesday meeting, with people crowded outside. National organizations such as the National Coalition Against Censorship and the Urban Libraries Council voiced their support.
The students putting on the event are members of the provisional UL chapter of the Delta Lambda Phi fraternity, which describes itself as a traditional Greek fraternity for “gay, bisexual and progressive men,” according to the national organization’s website.
The UL provisional chapter started in the spring semester of last year, said the chapter president, senior Jeffrey Sykes. The members expected some reaction to their plans, but not to this extent.
“We are still figuring out a lot of things, just as an organization. To have one of our first public events go viral, it’s like what have we done?” Sykes said. “This whole week I’ve been in a response mode. We have our recruitment week next week, so I’m trying not to let that fall by the wayside.”
Speakers at the City-Parish Council meeting overwhelmingly supported Drag Queen Story Time, despite a torrent of social media criticism. Rep. Clay Higgins called the event a “bizarre stunt” in a Facebook post, strongly condemning the students and the library.
“The very purpose of this incredibly inappropriate event should be questioned,” Higgins said. “The inclusion of the LGBQT Drag Queen realm into the Lafayette community, targeting our youngest children within a publicly funded venue, can only reflect the leftist agenda to deconstruct gender across America.”
Confronting vitriol wasn’t the most stressful part of the week, Sykes said, since he and his fraternity brothers have heard such comments before. Handling the onslaught of phone calls from reporters, organizations and others has been more challenging, especially in the first week of school.
“A lot of the comments I see I just respond in my head,” Sykes said. “We just have to make sure we are keeping our message consistent. We have to make sure we are representing the organization correctly.”
The Facebook page for Lafayette Citizens Against Taxes has been one forum for critics, who were largely absent at the City-Parish Council meeting. Michael Lunsford, who helps administer the page as executive director for Citizens for a New Louisiana, said the online critics likely preferred to correspond directly with their elected representatives.
“Any time anybody that’s relatively conservative shows up at a City Council meeting they are ignored, derided, talked down to or interrupted constantly,” Lunsford said.
Lunsford said his group isn’t likely to organize a campaign against Drag Queen Story Time, but he criticized the library for inserting itself into a divisive issue. The fundamental problem, Lunsford said, is the library appearing to promote the event by including it in scheduled programming.
Robideaux made a similar point in his statement, noting that anyone can use library space without discrimination, as allowed by law. Now the library “has kind of opened a Pandora’s box,” Lunsford said.
“If they vote to cancel the event, they open themselves up to a lawsuit from who knows who,” Lunsford said. “How do you find middle ground to this? How do you keep both sides happy?”