A story hour success
People started gathering outside the Sparks branch library early on July 20, but if county library officials had been concerned about trouble, there was no need. While the crowd eventually numbered in the hundreds, it was well behaved, possibly because it was perhaps five-to-one in favor of the drag queen story hour, if protest signs were any indication. The counter-protest had overwhelmed the protest.
And it was an unusual counter-protest—parents with small children who seemed not to want to be “protected” from tolerance.
Was there indoctrination going on? Yes. The children at the beginning of the program were taught some rudimentary sign language.
Was there physical touching going on? Yes. Hugs. Lots of hugs, all initiated by the children, just as might have happened at an appearance of Santa or Smokey the Bear.
And there was the “problem,” as critics of the story hour had feared, of drag queens being normalized. Even so, it was difficult to demonize costumed adults reading Tacky the Penguin. It made for a lousy threat to the family unit.
“I am going to read the critically acclaimed Just Add Glitter—my personal mantra in life,” said Ginger Devine, who with Aspen Meadows conducted the story hour.
When she got a few pages into it, with its “Add more glitter” and “Glitter, glitter anywhere” suggestions, she said, “I’m sensing a theme for this story.”
After the stories, the children were taught a countdown song, akin to “Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall”—which could inspire accusations of promoting booze for those who want to stir things up. This one, “No More Drag Queens Jumping on the Bed” would probably have gotten the same kind of objections, but by then the festival nature of story time had taken over and most of the critics were silent.
A short question-and-answer period elicited from one child the query, “Why are drag queens called drag queens?” which Devine explained simply.
The readers were pleased with the large turnout.
“That meant everything to me. … Folks were asking about when the next one was because they had such a great time,” Devine said later.
It appears that the late objection to the program by Sparks Mayor Ron Smith helped to pump up attendance and support for the event.
In a Reno Gazette Journal interview, Smith said, “It doesn’t make any sense to me. … It is absolutely ridiculous. Why would you have transgender people talking to kids?”
After the interview appeared, Smith backed away from it in a radio interview on KOH, blaming the newspaper. While the newspaper report was quote-poor, Smith’s quotes that did appear were hardly supportive of the story hour, and other parts of the RGJ story—presumably based on the interview—were in that same vein: “He [Smith] said he had concerns about drag queens taking off their clothes and reports of drag queens in other cities’ story hours not being background checked and committing crimes against children. … Smith said he reached out to [county Library Director Jeff] Scott and County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung about stopping the event.”
“They told me there is nothing they can do,” Smith told the RGJ.
It is worth noting that Mayor Smith did not make contact with the library staff to find out if background checks had been run before speaking publicly, even though he told the RGJ he spoke to Scott about stopping the event.
It is equally notable that, according to the RGJ, Smith did not call for background checks on all adults conducting story hour, only on drag queens. This is important because children are safest with people of alternative lifestyles.
Before Mayor Smith’s intervention, there had been other objections.
Karen England, a California political figure who also dabbles in Nevada issues, defined the Sparks story hour as “promoting drag queens and gay pride [and] political activism.”
Washoe County Library director Jeff Scott defined it as “an inclusive event … to make the LBGT community feel welcome.”
Defining these events is all the rage.
Christian Broadcasting Network: “Drag Queen Story Hour events have been spreading to libraries and other public places across the country as part of a nationwide LGBTQ agenda to indoctrinate children.”
New Jersey radio host Jeff Deminski: “The idea of all this is, of course, to build tolerance and acceptance.”
Elizabeth Johnston of Ohio, an anti-sex education activist who frequently expresses herself in sexual imagery (“you’re not allowed to rape the minds of our children”) posted a message: “Drag Queen Story Hour coming to Reno Nevada at Washoe County Sparks Library! Call to respectfully express your disgust at your taxpayer funds being used in this wasteful & reckless manner!”
That objection on behalf of taxpayers was a common theme among out-of-state figures drumming up opposition to the Sparks event, as with Karen England: “The Nevadans who have reached out to us in alarm about this event believe strongly that it is not OK for our tax-funded, publicly owned spaces to be giving our kids the message that men behaving in such a manner is just ’diversity,’ and that if any person disapproves of adults making these kinds of choices, that person is ’non-inclusive’.”
The facilities of county libraries in Nevada are available for the use of groups from knitting circles and book clubs to environmental groups and political debates—including conservative groups such as Nevadans for Equal Parenting—without the library necessarily endorsing the intents or programs of those groups.
But objections to these events around the country may suggest other agendas, too.
Where safety is found
The preoccupation of social conservatives with sexual imagery has often been a focus of research. Sexual abuse of children linked to politics dates back at least to the ancient Roman republic, and in the current Mother Jones, reporter Ali Breland—who specializes in covering disinformation—wrote that “mass witch hunts that followed are political too. … The history of American political reaction is full of sex demons. Jim Crow was buttressed by myths about black male virility. Likewise, North Carolina’s infamous bathroom bill was sold in part on the fear that predatory men could say they’re transgender to gain access to women’s bathrooms. Opponents of abortion rights continue to conjure gory fantasies of promiscuous women committing ’infanticide,’ an incitement that Trump turned into an applause line in an April rally.” In 2016, there was the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, in which Hillary Clinton critics falsely claimed hacked emails connected several restaurants and high-ranking officials of the Democratic Party with a child sex and human trafficking ring.
The late 1980s national hysteria over child care facilities such as the McMartin case in California, the Montessori case in Reno, and the Felix case in Carson City were all accompanied by outlandish imagery that was unbelievable—except that many believed it. Much of it was coaxed, berated or otherwise elicited from children who initially denied they had been molested. Transcripts of some of the loaded questions asked of children by counselors in the Felix case are now included as bad examples in scholarly studies. Few locals who saw it on the news will forget the excavation of Felix property in Carson City by earth-moving equipment in a fruitless search for bodies of animals or children used in alleged sacrificial ceremonies—a tableau that unfolded in other such cases around the nation, too.
In his 2015 book, We Believe the Children, Richard Beck wrote, “The word ’epidemic’ became an important feature of the political and rhetorical landscape in the 1980s. Whether the epidemics themselves were real, as in the case of AIDS, or imagined, as in the case of ’crack babies,’ the rhetoric that surrounded them portrayed American society as menaced on all sides by conspiracies and dire threats. Child sexual abuse officially took its place among these other threats at a 1984 hearing of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, where Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said, ’the molestation of children has now reached epidemic proportions.’ His warning was confirmed by stories in newspapers and on television stations around the country.”
Most of the criminal convictions in these cases were later overturned, including the Felix case in Carson City, in which the Nevada Supreme Court acted in part because, its unanimous opinion said, “medical evidence conclusively showed that most of the claims of sexual assault could not have occurred.”
Nevertheless, the hysteria served a political purpose, of bringing policy goals opposed by social conservatives—such as day care, working mothers and feminism— into disfavor.
The language that is employed in this fashion can be seen in Ohio’s Elizabeth Johnston, who objected to the Sparks event, and wrote this month of such story hours, “This is utter insanity but, saints, it is only a matter of time before something far worse takes place at one of these events. How do we know they haven’t already? We can’t just let them slither and slink away and continue to indoctrinate and groom impressionable children in a more private manner.”
In an article at This is Reno, Reno Human Rights Commission member Sean Savoy pointed out that Mayor Smith was ill-informed on the issues involved—drag queens and transgender individuals are two different things.
Nor is that the only place Smith’s ignorance showed through. The RGJ further reported, “[Smith] said he had concerns about drag queens taking off their clothes and reports of drag queens in other cities’ story hours not being background checked and committing crimes against children.”
As best we can tell, a story hour performer not being background checked has happened in Houston—and social conservatives have made that single event a cause celebre. But all have gone off as safely as the Sparks event.
As for “crimes against children,” Mayor Smith would have done more of a service by calling for across-the-board background checks, because children are safest with those who follow alternative lifestyles. Straights, not gays, are the greater threat, even if homosexuality were at issue in the story hours. A University of California at Davis survey of numerous studies “failed to support the hypothesis that homosexual males are more likely than heterosexual men to molest children or to be sexually attracted to children or adolescents.”
A 2010 report commissioned by U.S. Catholic bishops from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found an upsurge in gays becoming priests during the 1980s and a decrease in abuse associated with this group. Other scholarly studies have similarly suggested that straights are less able to control their impulses toward the young than gays.
A 1982 study found, “The research to date all points to there being no significant relationship between a homosexual lifestyle and child molestation. There appears to be practically no reportage of sexual molestation of girls by lesbian adults, and the adult male who sexually molests young boys is not likely to be homosexual.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Academy of Child Psychiatrists and the Child Welfare League of America have all asserted that sexual abuse of children usually happens at the hands of heterosexuals.