During every Rye City Council meeting, Rye residents are invited to speak on items that do not appear on the agenda. Many times topics can be varied and mundane, but not during the February 5, 2020 council meeting.
Ten different residents almost exclusively spoke about the cancellation (or the postponement) of the Rye Free Reading Room's Drag Queen Story Hour. The event, originally scheduled for February 8th, was indefinitely “postponed" by library director, Chris Shoemaker, after some objected to the event. The Drag Queen Story Hour, according to Wikipedia:
"are children’s events first started in 2015 by author and activist Michelle Tea in San Francisco with the goals to “inspire a love of reading, while teaching deeper lessons on diversity, self-love and an appreciation of others.” The events, usually geared for children aged 3–11, are hosted by drag queens who read children’s books, and engage in other learning activities in public libraries."
The event and subsequent cancellation has enraged both supporters and detractors of the program. A petition by Rye resident Joie Cooney supporting the event has attracted over 15,000 signatures including 450 Rye residents. And a petition against the Rye Free Reading Room's Drag Queen Story Hour has attracted over 900 signatures (it is not clearly identified who or what group is behind this petition). Supporters have even created an online merchandise store sporting pride – spelled "pRYEde" gear and the city's Human Rights Commission put out a supportive statement.
It is hard to watch the "debate" over the last few weeks as there is so clearly a deep LGBTQIA+ bias and intolerance.
You can watch Rye residents speaking at the council meeting, and also read the summary of each persons's remarks as noted by the draft city council minutes.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.
Rye resident city council comment summary:
David Cortez, 407 Midland Avenue, addressed the Council. He said that he and his family have felt welcome in Rye. He said that he became aware of this program at the library and was very curious about it. He said that after researching it, he felt that it was not appropriate for the age group. He asked the Council to reconsider this sort of program. He said that it was a mockery of the minority experience. He asked that the Council hold all the institutions to a higher standard.
Colette Dempsey, 195 Locust Avenue, addressed the Council. She said she had moved to Rye in 2008. She said she learned that the Rye library was going to have a Drag Queen Story Hour and that she was appalled. She said she felt the program was inappropriate for the age group proposed. She said that she had filled out a formal complaint. She said that was coming to the Council for help as she had heard that the City provides 75% of the library’s funding. She said that these programs do not belong in the library.
(PHOTO: The Rye Free Reading Room posted this notice when cancelling the event (click the enlarge).)
Dave Dempsey, 195 Locust Avenue, addressed the Council. He agreed that the library board handled the meeting very well. He said he was not here to attack any group. Mr. Dempsey argued against the proposed Drag Queen Story Hour program.
David Hood, Radcliffe Avenue, read a statement against the Drag Queen Story Hour program.
Michelle McMullen, 72 Claremont Avenue, addressed the Council. She said she was among a number of citizens who have submitted complaints. She said she was disappointed with the Human Rights Commission and the City. She asked that all parties are invited to the table for input on future programming at the library.
Alyson Relyea, 12 Halstead Place, addressed the Council. She said she loved the library, and had served on the board. She said that she collaborated the library often. The director and the librarians are gems in our community. The library is a place for public engagement. Ms. Relyea stated that she attended the Drag Queen Story Hour in Putnam Valley with her son so that she could come and speak as someone who was familiar with the program. She said that there was not anything sexual about the program. She said that the storybooks are read and discussed, and that the program is entertaining and fun. She said that she could understand that such a program might be unfamiliar to many people. Ms. Relyea discussed the positive aspects of the program and said that she hoped Rye could get there as a community.
Danielle Tagger-Epstein, Human Rights Commission Chair and Rye resident, 10 Sound Road, addressed the Council. She read the current mission statement of the Human Rights Commission, which was reinstated in 2016. She reminded the community that the Council passed an anti-discrimination resolution in 2017. She read the resolution, and then explained that the Drag Queen Story Hour is a nonprofit organization started in San Francisco and housed in New York City. It teaches children about diversity among other important lessons. Ms. Tagger-Epstein applauded the Rye Free Reading Room for considering such a program. She said that while this program may not align with everyone, one can choose not to attend.
Councilwoman Tarlow commented that the disconnect here was what the term “drag queen” meant to different members of the community. She reminded everyone that civility is important in this case, and on all issues. She said that she had originally asked the same question of why 3-8 year olds would be the target age group with this program, and the response was that is the age group that typically attends story hour, which made sense. Councilwoman Tarlow stated that the library’s programming is thoughtfully determined by an executive director. She said that the Council has no power to affect that. She said it was important for the Council to not affect that process and get involved in censoring programming that it has never previously interfered with. She encouraged anyone to communicate their thoughts with the library directly. She said that she felt the library did the exact right thing suspending the program until further notice. Further, she said that she had heard that the program was successful in Lewisboro.
Mayor Cohn stated that the Council stands by the anti-discrimination resolution. It is also true that the City of Rye has never dictated offerings or content in any of the not-for-profits in Rye, and it would be a very dangerous precedent for the City to do so. Mayor Cohn said that he was eager to see what the resolution may be. He recognized the work of the library director board on this and all issues there. He said he was hopeful that a resolution would be pleasing to everyone. Mayor Cohn lastly stated that we all have to take care of each other, and is grateful for the community for working together.
Ms. Dempsey readdressed the Council and said this was not discriminatory toward anyone, but she was not sure how drag queens were elevated to be role models. She stated that she felt the age group was not appropriate. She said that drag queens had a derogatory reputation and should not be reading books to children.
Dan Adler, 62 Elmwood Avenue, thanked the Council for their commitment to the environment. Mr. Adler made a statement against the proposed synthetic turf at Nursery Field. He stressed the importance about preserving the environment specifically at that site, being so close to a waterway. Mr. Adler then made a statement about Drag Queen Story Hour. He said that we live in an open society. He explained that when a statement is made that a certain group of people should not be role models, it can be very hurtful. If a child sees something in him or herself in a person that they are told should not be a role model, it can feel that the child is unwelcome. When a child suffers inside and feels not welcome in his or her community, it can lead to great depression and anxiety. Mr. Adler said that it is important for all children to be seen and welcome. It is a necessary thing in this community.
Angela Sculti, 8 Ridgeland Terrace, addressed the Council, and spoke against the Drag Queen Story Hour program. She said she felt that the bullies in this situation were the supporters of the program, and that advocates against the program were afraid to voice a valid opinion. She said that she felt upset that the Council could not do more to stop this programming. Ms. Sculti said she felt that there was no place for multiple opinions.
Mr. Cortez stated that it behooves this Council to demand that these groups act in a nonviolent and non-inflammatory way. He said the felt that there were a lot of people in hiding about their opinion. There was a lot of hateful speech.
Mayor Cohn said that the Council wished for civility in this conversation.