By Sue Kerr
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
I’ve been trying to figure out why decisions by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP) and the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum to cancel their June Drag Queen Story Hour events were bothering me so much.
After all, the Warhol Museum and White Whale bookstore did not cancel their event or suffer any fallout.
I tuned in to KDKA radio to listen to Akasha L. VanCartier, the drag performer who launched DQSH in Pittsburgh, talk with host Lynne Hayes-Freeland about the situation.
“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.”
And that comment took me right back to a Saturday afternoon in May 2003. I along with another 150 or so fans of Mr. Rogers turned out to his public memorial service. We were there to honor Mr. Rogers, not by attending but by peacefully counter-protesting the Westboro Baptist Church.
I had received an email earlier in the week from a local lesbian organizer, asking us to turn out with signs and songs to create a wall of love, protecting those attending the memorial from the truly vile content WBC was infamous for sharing. Our wall of love had to keep moving (like a trolley!) to avoid blocking the sidewalk.
The thought was similar to ‘angels’ who responded to WBC protests at funerals. Our large signs with the familiar faces from the Neighborhood of Make Believe were a natural fit for this task.
The counter-protesters vastly outnumbered the WBC protestors. The memorial took place without disruption. It seemed a very neighborly response.
It is a shame the Carnegie Library and Children’s Museum didn’t give the LGBTQ community an opportunity to craft a similar response to the protests of DQSH events.
If 150 people turned out to resist WBC in 2003, imagine the numbers who would create a wall of love to protect our children and the drag artists who donate their time to keep this event? Imagine a wall of love greeting families attending the DQSH with messages of hope, encouragement, and love. Imagine responding to hate speech with more speech. And yes imagine an increased presence of police woven into the fabric of this neighborhood tale.
That would be a truly neighborly response to threats. The hateful messages won’t go away, especially after the “victory’’ of the canceled events feeds the bloodlust of the protestors. The library and museums will continue to face these threats. If anything, the CLP made things worse for the safety of our families.
The question remains as to why The Warhol Museum was able to create a solution that the library did not. If you’d expect anyone to resist more policing at a Stonewall celebration, it’s the museum. But they opted to take necessary steps to protect the event without backing off their support of the LGBTQ community. It is baffling to think that CLP and the Children’s Museum couldn’t take similar measures. It is almost as if they have a vocal anti-LGBTQ constituency that can’t be found at the Warhol Museum.
So now we wait until autumn to see if DQSH returns to the CLP. We wait to see if other allies are targeted by these types of threats. We wait to see how CLP undoes the harm their decision created for local LGBTQ folks.
The CLP should go big by establishing an advisory group or listening sessions. They might consider that the LGBTQ neighbors could be the helpers Mr. Rogers advised us to seek out when we feel overwhelmed by frightening events. After all, we live with this every single day. We’ve been taking care of ourselves and children living in a chaotic culture for decades. Sometimes you run, sometimes you shout louder, and sometimes you make other choices. None of this is new to us and certainly not to the drag artists who gift us with the wonders of DQSH.
Hopefully, the Carnegie Library sees the value in working with the LGBTQ community to craft solutions that are more Mr. Rogers than Mr. Yuk.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
― Fred Rogers