In what appears to be the first such legislation in the nation, a Missouri lawmaker has introduced a measure to shield children from being exposed to “age-inappropriate material” at public libraries that receive state funding.
The proposed bill, according to a report in the Kansas City Star, “was drafted in reaction to drag queen story hours being held across the state.” The report went on to say that public libraries that violate the provision by displaying such literature “could lose state funding and even see their librarians fined or jailed.”
The proposed bill – “Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act” – “did not target books,” said state Rep. Ben Baker, who sponsored the bill.
Baker, a Republican from Neosho in southwest Missouri, told the Star, “In some places – St. Louis, Kansas City and I think St. (Joseph) – they’ve had these drag queen story hours and that’s something that I take objection to and I think a lot of parents do. That’s where in a public space,” he said, “our kids could be exposed to something that’s age-inappropriate. That’s what I’m trying to tackle.”
The dragqueenstoryhour.org website describes the events, which are organized by independent local groups across the nation and in some foreign countries, as “just what it sounds like – drag queens reading stories to children in libraries, schools, and bookstores. DQSH captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models. In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where people can present as they wish, where dress up is real.”
The Star’s story pointed out that “Though not all drag queens are gay or transgender, the events have become a kind of barometer for a community’s tolerance of expressing queer identities in public.”
In early September 2019, St. Joseph Public Library’s first drag queen story hour drew 500 people, according to a report in the St. Joseph News-Press. The event also attracted the Catholic protest group, America Needs Fatima, which is active in the Midwest. The group recruited and transported participants from as far away as Topeka. The group prayed the rosary for attendees.
Baker said the measure offers parents the “recourse” of objecting to programs introduced in their local libraries. Library districts would be required to establish five-member adult oversight boards to conduct public hearings and determine whether “material” was age-inappropriate.
If material is deemed inappropriate, it would have to be made inaccessible to minors.
Librarians who do not comply with the board’s decision could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, and if convicted could face a $500 fine and a one-year jail sentence.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Jacek Kadaj
Tim Tune is a freelance journalist based in Fort Worth, Texas. His work has been published by Baptist Press, as well as the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Business Press, Arlington Today magazine and other North Texas publications.