Reading from a prepared statement during a press conference held Wednesday morning, Delaware County District Library (DCDL) Director George Needham announced the cancellation of the library’s planned Drag 101 program — a female impersonation class originally scheduled to be held at 2 p.m. on June 5 at the Orange Branch, 7171 Gooding Blvd., Delaware.
“Let me be clear that this is in no way a victory for anyone,” Needham told the media during the press conference, which was held at the DCDL’s Orange Branch.
The controversial program featuring female impersonator Selena T. West was geared toward demonstrating to teenagers the art of female impersonation, also known as drag, through costuming and makeup.
Needham said meetings were held with the Delaware Police Department and the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office to consider security measures to ensure the safety of the patrons. He said the library district received “specific threats,” but since there is an ongoing investigation being conducted by the sheriff’s office, he was asked not to release specific information.
“As we were getting these messages, it became clear that a police presence of any kind or the kind that would be required for this would have overwhelmed the audience,” he said. “That is one of the reasons that we decided to cancel.”
Needham added the number one priority is ensuring that anyone walking through the door feels safe.
“Our mission statement ensures that we will provide ‘lifelong learning in a friendly environment.’” he said. “Threats of protests, hate, and violence stand in direct conflict with that mission, and we cannot sacrifice the safety of the public we serve.”
However, Needham said the Drag 101 program will happen, but the DCDL won’t be involved. He also mentioned that there is no other programming planned specifically around the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer (LGBTQ) subject.
“One of the things that we are looking at is creating a teen advisory committee to make sure we are hearing exactly what teens need,” he said. “We also work very closely with the schools, with the diversity officers of various school districts and other people to make sure we are providing appropriate programming.”
Needham added that people who support diversity programming need to be as vocal as possible to make their voices heard.
“One of the positive things that came out of this is a lot of conversations are happening in people’s homes that we’ll never know about,” he said. “Please continue to use the library to engage your curiosity, expand your opportunities, and improve your quality of life.”
According to DCDL Communications Manager Nicole Fowles, the comments from local groups were “incredibly positive,” but it was only after the library district received “veiled threats” of violence that the decision to cancel was made.
“People were smart enough to infer violence without saying it,” she said. “It was enough that they wouldn’t have been prosecuted for it, but it was enough to cause us pause. Had anything happened that would have sacrificed the safety of the patrons attending or our actual library, we wouldn’t have been able to forgive ourselves.”
DCDL Deputy Director Molly Meyers LaBadie said it’s a sad situation, because the staff was hoping to open up a community dialogue, but in the end, safety comes first.
“We’re responsible for the safety of everyone here,” she said. “We are glad people are talking, but we were hoping to do the program.”
DCDL Youth Services Manager Kelly Cochran added that programs come to library staff in different ways.
“We asked the teens what they wanted,” she said. “The teens wanted it. That’s where we got the idea from.”
Cochran said she hopes “the teens feel it’s still safe to come to the (library).”
Ahead of the press conference Wednesday, West announced via social media Tuesday evening that the Drag 101 program would be canceled. She stated the program will still take place from 2 to 3 p.m. June 5, but at a different location — Secret Identity Comics, 34 N. Franklin St., Delaware.
“It will be really seamless for the teens that wanted to participate,” she said. “It will be really easy for them to go to that location.”
As for the threats of violence, West said there is still a concern and steps were being taken to secure the safety of everyone involved. She said it’s only a small amount of people who have really large voices who are protesting, which is unfortunate.
“There’s a lot of voices that try to drown out the positive ones, but overwhelmingly on my Facebook and Instagram I’ve been receiving messages from all over the country from people who support me,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that the ones that are angry are also making threats, but the ones that are sending me love are way many more.”
West said due to the size of the room at Secret Identity Comics, there will be a cap on the number of participants in the program. But, she said there will be a number of classes added to help accommodate the larger number of people wanting to participate.
According to West, the owners of the shop, Laura and Kelly McFarland, approached the library about changing the location and eliminating the library’s involvement.
Laura McFarland said her husband, Kelly, had attended the meetings held by the DCDL.
“It wasn’t a question. See a need, fill a need,” said Laura McFarland. “When we found out the event had been canceled, we sent an email to the library to offer the store. Not very long after that Selena called us.”
McFarland said the couple was hoping that since the program had been moved to private property, the threats would go away, but “we’ve gotten some strange phone calls.”
“We have a backup plan just in case,” she said.
McFarland said there have been 100-125 positive responses on the store’s Facebook page.
“That’s more than we ever get,” she said.
While some of the individuals in opposition to the library district offering a program on female impersonation have allegedly responded with violent threats, others like Larry Garrett, owner of Mail Pro 1 in Delaware, have responded in a different way.
Garrett told The Gazette on Tuesday that he has decided to no longer support Friends of the Delaware County District Library, a support group for the DCDL system.
Garrett said he would be fine with the Drag 101 program if it was something offered as an adult class at Ohio Wesleyan University, but to offer a program of that type to children was “criminal.”
“I don’t object to other people going, but offering it with small children in there is criminal,” he said. “The prosecutor’s office, children services, and the sheriff’s office should look into it.”
Garrett notified the Friends of the Delaware County District Library by email that he has pulled his support.
“As a result of Delaware Libraries current position of inclusion, as reported in the news media, Mail Pro 1 will no longer support any activity or fundraising efforts that support the Delaware County Library. Additionally, I request our name and/or logo, be removed from all library related literature, posters, publication, etc., that would imply we are a supporter of the Delaware County Library,” Garrett states in his email.
Now that the library district is no longer involved, Garrett said it was bad judgment on behalf of the library district. He said the library would have to prove itself before he is comfortable becoming a supporter once again.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.