By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
Despite the decision of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s and the Children’s Museum to cancel scheduled Drag Queen Story Hour programs over the weekend, The Andy Warhol Museum held its program with a few adjustments and no reported problems.
Late last week, the Library, the Warhol and the Children’s museum were made aware of general threats made on social media against Drag Queen Story Hour programs that are held across the country. While the threats were not specific to local programs, the library and the museum cancelled their programs.
“Due to unforeseen circumstances beyond our control, Drag Queen Story Hour will not be presented this Saturday, June 29, at CLP-Main. CLP is proud to join other libraries around the country to offer programming to families that explores diversity and encourages empathy, kindness and understanding. We look forward to resuming story hour next season.”
When reached Saturday morning, Carnegie Library Spokesperson Suzanne Thinnes said, “We are very proud to offer this program and we fully intend on bringing it back next season. But in this instance, we had to put safety first.”
Danielle Linzer, the director of learning and public engagement at the Andy Warhol Museum said the museum was alerted to the same threats, but decided to use a much different strategy.
“We had organized a family friendly event at the museum,” Linzer told the Current Monday morning. “We were alerted to the fact that some vague online threats, not to specific to Pittsburgh, but toDrag Queen Story Hour had been made.
“I had heard about other events cancelling and I was surprised by that. At no point did we ever consider cancelling our event. We wanted this event to happen and at that point, it had to happen.”
Linzer said museum officials contacted police and an officer was at the location, along with additional members of the museum’s security team. The event was part of the museum’s day-long family friendly event to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots against police brutality against members of the LGBTQ community. Linzer said the irony was not lost on her that 50 years after protesters took on the police for violence against the LGBTQ community, the police were on hand at an event to protect members of the LGBTQ community.
Not only, Linzer said, was the event not cancelled, it was moved from a theater at the museum into the facility’s public spaces.
“It would have been absurd for us to cancel the program. We had to show that we were not ashamed of this event, we were celebrating it,” she said. “It felt like the right thing to do.”
This morning, Akasha L. Van Cartier, the “drag queen of drag queen story hour here in Pittsburgh,” was a guest on KDKA’s Lynn Hayes-Freeland Show. Making her first comment since her program was cancelled on Saturday, Van Cartier said this was the second year of the program and the first that she actually began receiving threats against her person.
“I was very hurt because I’ve been doing this program for two years and this is the first year that I personally experienced threats,” she said. Van Cartier did participate in the Warhol’s Saturday afternoon program along with fellow performer Bambi Deerest.
Van Cartier says the threats and online petitions that have sprung up come from ignorance about the program.
“It’s a program based around inclusivity. This isn’t a gay program. This isn’t a straight program. It’s an educational program. We dance, we play games, we do crafts; we learn letters, numbers and colors. We teach these children to love everyone around them. Everyone is different on the outside, but when we come down to it, we are all human beings.”
Hayes-Freeland replied to the description: “It’s a Fred Rogers message coming from a different messenger.”
While there was not a direct social-media threat on the Pittsburgh Program, a June 24 online petition on a website called “Return to Order,” a special campaign by the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, called for a protest to “urge” the library to cancel Drag Queen Story Hour. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the TFP as a fervent anti-LGBTQ organization. As of this morning, the petition has garnered more than 15,000 signatures. The petition did not contain a direct threat to the library.
The verbatim petition language states: I am appalled that you allow “Drag Queen Story Hours” to take place on your premises. Children should not be exposed to such aberrations. According to the American College of Pediatricians: “Conditioning children into believing that a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse.” Libraries are meant to be a family-friendly environment, not a center to confuse children. I urge you to cancel the “Drag Queen Story Hour”!
While claiming to offer legitimate medical research, the American College of Pediatricians has been labeled by the SPLC as an anti-LGBTQ hate group. The American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) is a fringe anti-LGBT hate group that masquerades as the premier U.S. association of pediatricians to push anti-LGBT junk science, primarily via far-right conservative media and filing amicus briefs in cases related to gay adoption and marriage equality.
Sue Kerr, an LGBTQ activist, blogger and Pittsburgh Current columnist says while she understands that safety should be a primary concern, she says extra measures could have been taken by consulting with police to make the program safer and let it go on as planned.
“Let’s make the event safer,” Kerr says. “I worry about what kind of message we are sending to the LGBTQ community, especially our children, when we give in to these kinds of threats.
“What makes the decision even harder to take is that this all happened on the last weekend of Pride Month and the weekend set to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. I think more should have been done before there was a cancellation.”
Attacking these programs is nothing new for the right, according to a recent story from Vice News.