MARION

Marion Public Library faces criticism over upcoming pride event

Iowa City's library says it had 500 attendees last week during its Drag Storytime

Marion Public Library. Photographed on Monday, November 26, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Marion Public Library. Photographed on Monday, November 26, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

MARION — An upcoming Marion Public Library Pride Month event has sparked controversy with some area residents.

Pride in Action, scheduled from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, is set to include an intergenerational drag queen storytime and a resource fair for members of the LGBTQ community.

State Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids, will give a welcome address, and Foundation 2, the Area Substance Abuse Council, Waypoint Services, the Sexual Health Alliance of Linn and Johnson County and Mom’s Hugging will be at the fair.

Some community members in The Marion, IA Activist Facebook group expressed concern a pride event is happening in a taxpayer-funded facility. Other commenters were more derogatory, correlating pedophilia with drag queens or expressing children shouldn’t be near the drag queens.

Hollie Trenary, Marion’s library director, wanted to make clear that the drag queen performance was only a piece of the facility’s pride event and not associated with any other drag queen storytime events that have been held at other facilities.

She said staff were first approached about a pride event by a group of teens and their parents.

“I’m getting calls on both sides of the issue,” Trenary said. “I 100 percent love it when people exercise their rights. I’ll take these phone calls all day long.”

A lot of the calls, however, have not been about the drag queen portion of the program but rather concern with the LGBTQ issue in general. Trenary said she’s bound by city ordinances and the Library Bill of Rights, which do not allow for discrimination on issues such as sexual orientation or views.

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“As a public employee, a public facility, that lifestyle is 100 percent accepted,” Trenary said, adding that she understands not all library programming or materials will be for everyone. “Whether they support it or don’t support it, our city ordinances do.”

Drag queen storytimes are not uncommon for library programming. Area library directors say it the concept is nothing new and a national organization, Drag Queen Story Hour, holds events across the country.

The Orange City Public Library, in Sioux County, also experienced recent anti-LGBT sentiments. Christian activist Paul Dorr was charged in December in connection with a public burning of four LGBTQ-themed library books, according to the Sioux City Journal.

The Iowa City Public Library held its Drag Storytime last Saturday. It’s the second year that the library has held that particular event, which is one in a series of pride activities in June.

Elsworth Carman, Iowa City’s library director, estimated Drag Storytime this year had more than 500 people attend, so much so that, when he arrived at the start time with his children, the room was too full to stay.

“Our job is to serve everybody in our community,” Carman said, adding he hadn’t heard any negative community feedback. “Kids have such open minds and they understand things sometimes that adults have trouble with. I was a little sad to see the negative comments but it’ll be interesting what the turnout is.”

Carman previously served as Marion’s library director before starting his current position in January.

Jeaneal Weeks, director of the Hiawatha Public Library, said her library hasn’t planned a similar event yet but staff would be open to it. Weeks said Monday morning her library fielded a phone call from a woman wanting to make sure Hiawatha wasn’t holding a drag queen storytime.

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“It’s something to offer the community. We do serve everybody. It makes a lot of sense to pair it with a pride festival of some sort,” Weeks said.

“It’s something that I’m prepared to chat about. I haven’t had to before, but it’s just going to keep coming up. And it needs to be addressed and people need to know how libraries work.”

Dara Schmidt, Cedar Rapids Public Library director, said her library hasn’t planned any pride events this month because of a busy schedule but staff would be open to the idea. The library previously has created programming around issues such as racism, classism and the gay experience in Iowa.

Libraries “work really hard to do community-driven programming and so that means that sometimes you’re putting stuff out there for information, for shared understanding, for inclusion and those topics can be controversial,” Schmidt said. “Those community conversations, absolutely that’s what public libraries are for.”

• Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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