The Delaware County District Library announced its summer programming last month and received questions and concerns about one program out of the many it offers. The program is Drag 101, a place where teens have the opportunity to learn about the application of makeup, creating characters, and the history of drag.
Libraries are open to all and dedicated to serving the needs of everyone in the community and include programs and events based on the needs of local communities and requests made by library users, which often reflect the diverse experiences of individuals in the community. With such a wide spectrum of information and ideas available, it is not surprising that some programs may not align with everyone’s personal values or perspectives.
However, under federal law, public libraries do not discriminate nor regulate the content of speech. Libraries are free public spaces that allow everyone to feel safe and to find opportunity.
At a library, it doesn’t matter how much money you make, because every resource is free of charge, including books, internet access, and educational and professional training programs. Everyone, no matter their socioeconomic status, can count on their libraries to provide them with the resources they need to succeed and the answers to important questions they can’t otherwise find.
According to the American Library Association, librarians in public and academic libraries across the country answer over 6 million questions every week. If everyone who asked a question formed a line, it would span all the way from Florida to Alaska.
Librarians help patrons not only find their next reading selection, but also answer questions about computer and internet, job applications, resume writing, and filling out government forms, including tax and health insurance paperwork, all of it for free.
I was surprised by the outward expressions of concern and fear over the Drag 101 program, which was requested by the youth of our community. The DCDL provided informative forums to listen to concerns and they approached the controversy with gentleness and courage. Ultimately the program was cancelled due to hostile threats of violence from outside our community toward library patrons and staff.
Maintaining a gentle spirit in the midst of dissension and disagreement takes extraordinary courage, determination and resilience. Author L.R. Knost writes, “Do not underestimate the power of gentleness because gentleness is strength wrapped in peace, and therein lies the power to change the world.”
I applaud the library for attempting to provide programming for diverse constituents in the community. I am grateful for Secret Identity Comics, a local business who stepped up to host the program.
I find when I interact with people who have different views and take time to listen to them, barriers are broken down. I learn where they are coming from. We might not end up agreeing, but we understand our common personhood and respect each other.
Approaching others with an engaging spirit and not one of bullying and hubris is key to understanding each other as we listen.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus commends the meek and pure in heart. What a contrast to what is praised in our culture. Our culture says, “Blessed are the rich and strong, the powerful and mighty, the competitors and aggressors; blessed are the winners and despised are the losers.”
Jesus said, “Blessed are the gentle at heart.” The Greek word translated as gentleness describes a person of authority who refuses to use their power to crush another person. An example would be a manager who has the power to harshly punish and chooses kindness and forgiveness instead. Jesus is saying, “Blessed are those who refuse to use their power to benefit themselves or harm others,” and instead, use their power to serve others.
When we act even-handedly, avoiding unnecessary harshness, imagine the possibilities! We have the power to choose to use the lens of gentleness when we approach an issue or a person.
I saw a quote that made me think: “When you learn to sit at the table with your Judas, you’ll understand the love of Jesus Christ.”
Blessed are those who use their power not to harm but to heal, not to destroy but to create, not to divide but to unite, not to demean or demonize, but to affirm and lift up, not to serve themselves but to serve others.
Rev. Dr. Tamara Francis Wilden is director of Field Education at Methodist Theological School in Ohio and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, East Ohio Conference. She attends Asbury United Methodist Church, an open and affirming congregation.