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Far-right assault on Drag Queen Story Hour kicks off County Commission meeting

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The Washoe County Library System was in the crosshairs during public comment at Tuesday’s Washoe Board of County Commissioners meeting. In addition to complaints about libraries’ leadership and advisory board, the regular Drag Queen Story Hour was attacked as “grooming” children and child abuse.

The commenters are part of Washoe Patriots, a far-right group that claims to support “reclaiming freedoms” and has advocated for parents’ rights. The group has also led local culture war campaigns against critical race theory in schools and a failed “election integrity” resolution in 2022.

Drag Queen Story Hour launched at Washoe County’s libraries in 2019 featuring local drag performers in colorful costumes reading books curated and approved by library staff.

Drag Queen Story Hour meme.
EDITORIAL MEME by Darren Archambault. Darren is a graphic designer, meme artist, musician and political activist. When he is not doing freelance design or music, he is creating political editorial style memes, and co-running Reno/Sparks Mutual Aid.

Children and parents have overwhelmingly said they enjoy the events, and Library System Director Jeff Scott said the events were designed to increase diversity and inclusion. 

Washoe County Library’s Drag Queen Story Hours are just one of a number of official Drag Story Hour events across the U.S. and internationally. Advocates of the events say they allow children to enjoy a judgment free zone. 

According to drag queen Nina West, “Drag is an opportunity for anyone – including and especially children – to reconsider the masks we are all forced to wear daily.”

Some public commenters felt differently. Claiming to be the majority, they demanded the county cancel the Drag Queen Story Hour events and remove the library system’s director. Several threatened lawsuits and warned commissioners of legal liabilities the county may face by hosting the events.

In addition to falsely claiming that drag queens expose children to sexuality and sexually explicit topics during the story hours, they cited a case in Texas in 2017 and 2018 where a convicted sex offender was allowed to participate as a drag queen reader. 

Washoe County resident Tyler Colton disagreed with those demanding an end to the story hour. 

“What you’re hearing today is a group targeting the LGBT community with hate. They’re a minority,” Colton said. “Looking around you can see that many of these individuals are older and are living in a time that has passed.”

He cited movies and TV shows many people have likely watched that included drag, including “Some Like It Hot,” “Bosom Buddies,” “Tootsie” and “The Birdcage,” and noted that drag queens are merely actors playing fictional characters. 

Colton said their arguments are based on fear and intolerance and not worthy of the county’s focus.

Another commenter, who called themselves Kat, said that if safety of children was what the Washoe Patriots were concerned about, they would be demanding background checks rather than canceling the event. 

“The goal for these folks is not to protect anyone. Instead the goal is to exclude some people, a specific group of people,” Kat said. “The goal for these folks is to eventually use laws to cause trans folks to cease to exist. The red herring about a drag performer is intentionally just the tip of the iceberg.”

Kat tied the Washoe Patriots’ effort Tuesday to efforts in nearly half of states to put anti-transgender laws into the books. 

Miss Ginger Devine, a local queen that reads during the events, told KUNR radio last year, “I am just a drag queen who is reading books that the library staff curated and approved of. To anyone out there who thinks there’s some subversive agenda happening, well I guess literacy, respect and equity are now subversive agendas.”

Commenters asked commissioners to defund the Drag Queen Story Hour. The county doesn’t fund the program. It’s paid for by Friends of Washoe County Library, a separate non-profit organization. 

Commissioner Alexis Hill also noted that, “by Nevada statute, the Washoe County Board of Commissioners does not have oversight on the programming through the Washoe County Library System.” 

She cited and read Nevada Revised Statute 379.027, which outlines the powers and duties of the librarian and the library board of trustees.

Commissioner Jeanne Herman, who also supported the Washoe Patriots’ “election integrity” issue, sought from Assistant District Attorney Nate Edwards more information on what powers the county did have related to the libraries and Drag Queen Story Hour. 

Edwards said the commission’s power was limited to funding the libraries and determining whether the county would have a public library.

“So we know what we have to do,” Herman said.

No items affecting Washoe County Libraries were included on Tuesday’s commission meeting agenda. 

Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience working in marketing, public relations and communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. She also serves as director of communications for Nevada Cancer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit. Though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a Nevadan for life and uses her three-hour time advantage to get a jump on the morning’s news.

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