A planned event at the Ben May Main branch of the Mobile Public Library has sparked outrage among some members of the city’s religious community.
A group of local pastors, led by Luke 4:18 Fellowship’s Rev. Fred Wolfe, plans to speak out about the Drag Queen Story Hour event at Monday’s Mobile County Commission meeting and Tuesday’s Mobile City Council meeting.
Wolfe, the former pastor of Cottage Hill Baptist Church, said he fears the event, which will feature a drag queen reading to children ages 3 to 8, is nothing more than an attempt to push the “LGBTQ agenda.” He and others say they want to “protect the children.”
“We’re not attacking people,” Wolfe said. “We think the message they are communicating … is totally wrong.”
Wolfe said he doesn’t believe the event aligns with the morals of residents in Mobile County and added that it shouldn’t be held in a public facility.
“They’ve got a right to do it, but why come to the public library?” he asked.
While Wolfe said he understands residents won’t be forced to attend, he said he worries that unsuspecting families will think it’s “safe.”
“The people we’re afraid about are those who don’t know the underlying theme,” Wolfe said. “They don’t understand it’s part of a planned agenda. People are going to go and think it’s safe.”
The Drag Queen Story Hour is being organized by Rainbow Mobile, a non-profit serving LGBTQ people throughout Southwest Alabama, and Executive Director Bryan Fuenmayor said it’s meant to help expose children to someone who is different.
He said those who are speaking out against are the ones who are “confused” about the event.
“There is confusion and fear about what they don’t understand,” Fuenmayor told Lagniappe. “I would encourage them to get to know someone from the LGBTQ community.”
Fuenmayor encouraged those speaking out to go to a drag show and interview some of the participants. He said if they did, the “preconceived notions” would go away.
At the event, which is scheduled to take place at noon on Saturday, Sept. 8, a performer named Khloe Kash will read to books to the children, Fuenmayor said.
The first book, called “Stella Brings the Family,” is about a girl who brings her two dads to a Mother’s Day event at school. The second reading will be from the book“Rainbow Fish.”
Fuenmayor said Kash would include a brief “movement portion” after each reading, and said the program would also feature arts and crafts activities as well.
The leaders of Rainbow Mobile say they’re not discouraged by the planned protests, in fact, Fuenmayor said the event has received much more positive reaction than negative. He said he expected a small event, with just a few families, but said “it has really blown up” since the backlash — drawing the interest from as far away as Birmingham and Huntsville.
He expects more events to launch statewide.
Wolfe said the goal of the pastors’ protest is to “show our disapproval of this being held at the library,” adding that the group wants to “make the people of Mobile aware of it.”
In a statement, the board of the Mobile Public Library said the outside event is not using any tax money, “library funds, or friends of the library funds.”
“The library welcomes the use of its meeting rooms by community businesses, groups and organizations,” the statement reads. “As an institution for education and free speech and in accordance with Article 6 of the American Library Association Library Bill of Rights, the library makes its meeting rooms available on equal terms to all groups regardless of the beliefs and affiliations of their members. Permission to use a library meeting room does not constitute library endorsement of any group’s policies, objectives, goals or beliefs. If we exclude one group, we must exclude all.”
Much like the library board, the county and city are also barred by law from intervening.
“The First Amendment grants all citizens the right to the freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of association,” city spokeswoman Laura Byrne wrote in a statement. “Libraries are public spaces, especially when the City owns the building. The government cannot limit this right as long as citizens don’t disobey the law.”
In the statement, Byrne noted that the administration has no direct oversight of the library, or its board. The board is appointed by the Mobile City Council. Council Vice President Levon Manzie, who is also a local pastor, could not immediately be reached for comment.
County Commission President Connie Hudson said she understands the frustration felt by those who are upset over the event, but noted the county has no control over library operations.
“I completely understand that people are frustrated and don’t know where to turn, and I completely understand the need to be heard about something they so strongly disagree with,” Hudson said. “I don’t think any of the individuals that want to be heard are going to find any of us who disagree that a program explaining or discussing an adult lifestyle or subject matter to young children is highly inappropriate.”
Hudson said she had spoken to members of the library board to “register [her] disapproval” but was told the library wasn’t sponsoring or funding the program. Instead, Hudson said she was told the library’s hands were tied because Rainbow Mobile “met the qualifications others meet in order to rent a room” at the facility. She said there was “no legal basis” for denying their access.
“What do you do with that?” Hudson added.