Libraries, Drag Queens and Culture Wars

by James A. Bacon

As a conservative with libertarian leanings, I have no quarrel with drag queens. If men want to dress like women… that’s not my thing, but it’s a free country. If men like to dress like women and sing in night clubs, that’s fine, too. Some are very entertaining — and they aren’t hurting anybody. But I draw the line at normalizing cross dressers with children. And I do have a problem with public, tax-funded libraries hosting drag queen storybook hours for kids.

Hunter Hollar, a resident of Crozet in Albemarle County, has similar reservations. When the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library hosted a virtual program, “Drag Makeup for Teens,” he objected. He finds it amazing that the library, instead of promoting great books and artistic material, would “see fit to involve teens in drag make-up.”

He wrote the library to express his concerns. R. Timothy Carrier, young adult services manager, wrote him back. The library’s mission, he said, is to foster “personal growth and life-long learning for all by connecting people with ideas, information, and each other.”

If you thought of libraries as mere repositories of books accessible to the public, you are very much out of date. Yes, books still have a prominent place, but librarians see their role as community facilitators now…. fostering personal growth and life-long learning. I’m willing to stand corrected, but in my observation the “personal growth” and “life-long learning” to which Carrier refers is tilted toward the secular, cultural left.

Ideas for events, wrote Carrier, come from many sources, including staff and patrons, other libraries and “subjects of current interest in the community.”

Young Adult programs are also discussed with teens in the Teen Advisory Boards meeting at several JMRL branches, including ideas suggested by members of the group. In addition, many programs are conducted in partnership with individuals or organizations with expertise on a particular subject, and a form is available for anyone to request a partnership with the Library in presenting a program.

Libraries, said Carrier, “should actively seek to include a variety of programming options representing diversity of genres, formats, ideas, and expressions with a multitude of viewpoints and cultural perspectives that reflect the diversity in our communities.”

The Library recognizes that not every program or theme will be suited for everyone, and many offerings are made available year-round to reflect the interests of different members of the community.

That sounds anodyne. Here’s my question: How “diverse” are the viewpoints and cultural perspectives that are typically found in libraries these days? How often do libraries serve as venues for people with traditional, conservative perspectives? Would a Charlottesville-Albemarle public library sponsor a program that, say, explored the artistry and aesthetics of Confederate war memorials?

As evidenced by the conferences speakers of the recent American Library Association annual meeting — speakers range span the spectrum from the left wing to the non-political, not a conservative in sight — libraries are increasingly dominated by environmental and social-justice warriors. Do such librarians seek out “diverse” perspectives different from their own — e.g. conservative perspectives — or do they gravitate toward groups, ideas, and causes with which they identify?

If a library were privately owned and funded, I would have no complaint. People should be free to sponsor whatever causes they wish. But public libraries are… public. They are maintained by public tax dollars.

Perhaps I am over-reaching. A cursory review of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library events for teen and adult programs pages reveals no events of a particularly controversial nature in the current line-up. Perhaps drag queen reading hours and make-up sessions are the exception, not the rule.

Alternatively perhaps the libraries serving the People’s Republic of Charlottesville accurately reflect the political and cultural views of most citizens, while libraries in, say, Galax or Goochland, have a very different tenor.

But I think it is an issue worth exploring. The left has conquered the mainstream news media, Hollywood, higher education, the New York book publishing industry, museums and other cultural institutions. Why not community libraries as well? The difference is that the media, Hollywood, and nonprofit museums are not supported by tax dollars. Public libraries are.

I would like to hear from readers. What experiences have you had with your local libraries? Have they brought the culture wars to your community?