The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday avoided taking a position on the controversial Drag Queen Story Time reading event at the public library.
Six of nine council members abstained from voting on a resolution by Councilman Jared Bellard and Councilman William Theriot to denounce the event. Councilwoman Nanette Cook voted with Bellard and Theriot.
The resolution was strictly symbolic, since the council has no direct say in library programming.
Drag Queen Story Time is to feature a group of male University of Louisiana-Lafayette students reading to children ages three to six while dressed as women. Library staff will select reading material deemed age appropriate. The reading is to be performed by members of a provisional chapter of Delta Lambda Phi, which calls itself a national fraternity for gay, bisexual and progressive men.
The Lafayette Public Library administration included a programming note about the event in a newsletter last month, igniting angry backlash from some who said it was inappropriate. Supporters have been just as vehement, and those on both sides clashed this week on consecutive nights at the meetings of the library board and City-Parish Council.
The library board on Monday appeared to ensure the event will move forward by taking no action at its regular meeting. The council meeting Tuesday was the last foreseeable public proceeding concerning the event.
More than 70 people signed up to speak at the standing-room only council meeting, the majority of whom spoke out against the event. Many cited their religious beliefs, and a few expressed unvarnished moral outrage toward LGBTQ lifestyles.
The Lafayette library board president submitted his resignation Monday as controversy continued over plans for male college students to read s…
Others opposed the event because they felt the public library was inappropriately taking a position on a social issue, or because they did not agree with the library having gender identity programming for young children. Some of those opposing the event said they were afraid the library is opening the door to events put on pedophiles, terrorists and drug addicts.
There was little common ground between supporters and opponents, as the two groups repeatedly showed fundamental disagreement about what the event is all about.
Supporters insisted they were not pushing an agenda, but were seeking only to teach children about love and inclusion. Several speakers who identified as gay or transgender recalled being outcasts as children, saying they hoped the event could help others avoid those painful experiences.
“It’s not about sex, it’s not about identifying as another gender,” said Jared Eubanks. “It is art.”
That was a nonstarter for Bernard McLaughlin.
“If the word ‘drag queen’ isn’t about sex and gender, I must have grown up on the wrong planet,” McLaughlin said.
The opposition on Tuesday was a departure from the Aug. 21 council meetings, where dozens of speakers spoke in support of the event. That meeting came on the heels of Mayor-President Joel Robideaux’s statement opposing the event.
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Robideaux’s appointee to the library board, Joseph Gordon-Wiltz, resigned three days later, saying he couldn’t carry out the mayor-president’s will. His replacement, Hilda Edmond, was absent at the meeting Monday.
The mayor-president appoints one of the library board’s eight members, and the council acting as a single body appoints the others.
Multiple speakers on Tuesday challenged the notion that the council could not exert influence on whether the event goes forward, suggesting the council could remove the seven board members that are not mayoral-appointees.
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The city-parish attorney, Paul Escott, explained that the council can remove library board members only for neglect of duty, and only after due process hearings.
Following the public comment period, Council Chairman Kevin Naquin questioned the library director, Teresa Elberson, as to how the event had been planned. Naquin specifically wanted to know if the board had been involved in approving it, or if the board had considered other locations.
Elberson replied that she and her staff had planned the event without board involvement.
Naquin, while declining to denounce the event with this vote, was taken aback that the library board did not discuss the event at its meeting on Monday.
"That amazes me," Naquin said to Elberson. "I would hope the library considers people's thoughts."