Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux wants the public library to cancel Drag Queen Story Time, an event that stirred instant controversy once local media reported on it Monday.
A blurb in the library’s September-October newsletter describes the event as “an afternoon of books, songs and activities led by drag queens” from a provisional chapter of the Delta Lambda Phi fraternity at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
The event is scheduled Oct. 6, a Saturday, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. The recommended ages for participating children is 3 to 6 years old. The director of the library system, Teresa Elberson, said Tuesday afternoon she has no plans to cancel the event, unless the library governing board instructs otherwise.
Robideaux said in a statement Tuesday he wants to find out how the event was approved. Robideaux noted anyone can reserve space at public libraries without fear of discrimination but officials must ensure “internally approved programming is both appropriate and serves the needs of Lafayette Parish.”
The Library Board of Control oversees library administration, with board members appointed by Robideaux and City-Parish Council members.
“I will be discussing cancellation of the event or privately-owned location alternatives with my appointment and encourage the Council to do the same,” Robideaux said in the statement.
Elberson said she has been "horrified" by some of the backlash, including the incorrect assumption by some that children would be separated from their parents during the event.
The library system hosts an average of 60 story time events throughout the parish, according to a statement posted on the library's website, and "special guests at the story time are not a new concept to the program."
As with the other story time events, the reading selections will be age appropriate and chosen by professional librarians, Elberson said. The theme is recognizing differences in people, Elberson said, suggesting that "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" might be a fitting book.
“These individuals aren’t talking about sex or gender or anything to do with that at all," Elberson said, referring to the fraternity members. “We are trying to use an individual wearing a dress to open the conversation about being different. That’s it."
The Delta Lambda Phi social fraternity describes itself as "by and for a decidedly nontraditional group: gay, bisexual, and progressive men."
Members of the local fraternity came up with the idea of reading to children while in drag earlier this summer, said member Brad Parfait, a sophomore at UL-Lafayette.
The story hour had already been scheduled, Parfait said, and the fraternity approached library officials about volunteering to do the reading.
Doing the event in drag is important to the fraternity members, Parfait said, because “it’s important for young kids to understand this is normal behavior, even if it may be different to some. It’s not something you should be bullied over.”
To his surprise, Parfait said, library officials responded with enthusiasm.
“There were perfectly fine with it. They actually wanted us to come do it,” Parfait said.
The enthusiasm isn't shared by everyone, though. Heated debate has flared up on social media and news website comment sections.
Commenters seized on Robideaux’s statement once he posted it on Facebook, with some agreeing the library shouldn’t be sponsoring the event. Others said Robideaux’s stance was disappointing.
A few commenters were overtly derisive toward the fraternity.
“We are not trying to indoctrinate or push our agendas on anyone,” Parfait said. “We are just trying to put a simple idea out there that we thought was fun and would help the community as a service.”