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Concerned citizen Robert Judge speaks during the Library of Control Board meeting against the Drag Queen Story Time Monday, Sept. 17, 2018 at the Lafayette Public Library in Lafayette, La.

A federal lawsuit  filed by opponents led the Lafayette Public Library to cancel a “Drag Queen Story Time” event, but it now faces a legal challenge from the opposite direction. The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of two Lafayette Parish residents, claiming that the library’s retreat from holding the event was unconstitutional.

Specifically, plaintiffs Aimee Robinson and Matthew Humphrey say the library is requiring them to promise in writing not to use the meeting space for anything related to the story time event as a precondition for reservation. They claim that this amounts to “targeted, viewpoint-based discrimination.”

Robinson and Humphrey want to use the meeting room to plan and hold a Drag Queen Story Time event, but they claim are now barred from doing so in violation of their First Amendment rights.

“Lafayette library officials have imposed a gag order on their patrons,” the ACLU of Louisiana’s legal director, Katie Schwartzmann, said in a news release. “The fact that this particular ban targets LGBTQ Louisianans based upon fear-mongering and discrimination is particularly egregious.”

Library director Teresa Elberson told staff in an internal memo this month that the library “cannot in any way allow Drag Queen Story Hour,” because of the opponents’ lawsuit, according to KATC. Elberson told Magistrate Judge Patrick Hanna in an October 16 hearing that the library would “stand down” from holding the event, according to court files.

The ACLU complaint notes the title of the event in Elberson’s internal memo, which is also used in the new room reservation forms, is similar but different from the one that the plaintiffs want to conduct. Plaintiffs want to hold an event called “Drag Queen Story Time.”

Drag Queen Story Time, initially planned for Oct. 5, was intended to be an hourlong event in which male University of Louisiana-Lafayette students dressed in women’s clothes would read books to children ages three to six. Professional librarians would choose the books. It stirred immediate controversy after appearing in an August pamphlet of the library’s upcoming events.

Elberson defended the event during several contentious public meetings. As the uproar grew, the library announced that the location of the event would be moved from a library meeting room in the downtown branch to a more spacious venue at South Louisiana Community College. But the college backed out two days before the event, citing security concerns.


Follow Ben Myers on Twitter, @blevimyers.