Editor's note: We have published a follow-up to this story, including comments from two of the drag performers who were contacted about reading to attendees at the initially-rescheduled Drag Queen Story Time event: Drag performers respond to changes in former Drag Queen Story Time event at Leander Library
Open Cathedral Church announced Friday morning that its planned hosting of Drag Queen Story Time has changed, and the event will now be known as Leander Family Pride Festival and Story Time. Although drag queens will still be present at the event, they will no longer be performing the readings. Instead, attending parents will take over reading duties during Saturday's event.
Open Cathedral Pastor Ryan Hart said the new format will be a “bigger, more inclusive” private event. Hart said that drag queens will be there, and the church has added booths from local non-profit LGBTQ affirming groups, PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and an all-inclusive scouting group.
After several groups from outside Leander said they planned to protest the originally scheduled Drag Queen Story Time event, the city announced that it would close the library to the public and only allow those who had purchased tickets to the event to enter.
Open Cathedral Church is hosting the event at 3 p.m. Saturday in a library conference room.
Hart said 150 tickets have been sold for the event. A Facebook event shows many more plan to attend, and more than 2,000 marked themselves as 'interested' in the event.
Despite the library being closed to the public, Hart said the families who bought tickets will still be able to get in. In a social media post Friday morning, the church said doors will open at 2:45 p.m. Because of limited space, Open Cathedral is asking families to leave strollers and bags at home or in their cars.
In an email Friday, Hart said the church will not allow media inside the event, saying “the event is about the kids.” However, in an interview Thursday, Hart had told the Hill Country News that media would be allowed into the event based on available space and confirmed that media would be able to photograph the performer reading to attendees.
In its Friday post, Open Cathedral wrote that there is “huge interest in having an affirming, diverse LGBTQ event in Leander.” The post said the drag queen who was excited about attending the event will not be able because of an “unavoidable work commitment,” so the now “parents of LGBTQ families and of adopted kids have stepped in to be our readers.”
However, the posts state they anticipate having drag queens attend outside of the room.
“These Leander residents will show kids that being different is wonderful. Even people in their own community represent that! These moms and dads are leaders of our church who are already background checked (background checks can take a while)," the post said. The three stories that will be read at the event will be:
“The theme (to the books) is that if you feel different in some way, and the truth is all people feel different in some way, then you’re wonderful and loved no matter what,” Ryan said.
Saturday's event was initially called Drag Queen Story Time, and was listed on the Leander Public Library's calendar of events.
However, after social media firestorm broke out and numerous calls were made to the library and city council members — which the Houston-chapter of national group MassResistance claims credit for helping drive, in various public posts — the city announced May 23 that the event was being canceled, along with a separate superhero-themed event.
Valeri Abrego-Liszewski, who last month said they were planning to read to attendees in the original Drag Queen Story Time event, will not be reading to children at Saturday's new-format event. Abrego-Liszewski was not immediately available for comment on Friday morning.
However, MassResistance recently garnered national news coverage of its opposition to the planned Drag Queen Story Time in Christian and conservative media. The group also emailed a number of photos of Abrego-Liszewski performing (in drag) in a burlesque-type event, saying Abrego-Liszewski engaged in, "deviant, destructive, and dysfunctional behavior."
"Drag entertainment is an inherent deviant, sexually perverse affair," a MassResistance release sent to the Hill Country News this continued.
In an interview Thursday, Abrego-Liszewski told the Hill Country News that they teach choreography classes for a burlesque academy that only instructs adults, and that the dancing depicted in those photos was an "appropriate and normal form of dance."
MassResistance's release also targeted Open Cathedral's pastor, and included photos taken from social media of Hart with his wife and children.
Under one photo of Hart and his wife, the MassResistance release said, "The wife has had at least one of the babies… I was wondering if she was a he or what by her evolving looks which seem to get more masculine over time… maybe she is just not that fortunate with her genetic makeup."
When the events were cancelled, the City of Leander’s published statement said it was conducting a review of how live entertainment groups are selected and screened prior to being added to the library’s promoted events and programs. The city said the two canceled events were chosen because they involve live entertainment with outside guests that were not included in the Central Texas Library System’s slate of recommended entertainers.
The city is currently conducting a public survey about what events residents would like to see at the library in the future.
On the day of the cancellation, the church reserved a room at the library to host the event themselves, saying the goal was to ensure it would still be held on Saturday, June 15.
“Our church believes that if churches still have any kind of influence in society, we should only use our influence in terms of amplifying the voices of the people who are ignored and oppressed,” Hart said.
Despite the uproar present online, Hart said the church has received overwhelmingly positive support from the local community and beyond for hosting the event.
“We’ve received thousands of positives comments… There has been a small number of negative comments, but they’re outnumbered 20 to 1 by positive comments. We’ve really tapped into something that’s really needed here,” Hart said.
“We’ve had people super excited to be able to meet neighbors in the community that believe in this level of diversity and loving their kids no matter what. For some, they’re describing it like a coming out party for Leander — in terms of being able to meet families that share similar values.”
Several regional and national groups from outside of Leander have said they are planning protests and demonstrations on Saturday, either in support of or opposition to the event. The city will designate an area near the library to allow for peaceful demonstration by any individuals planning to attend. Vehicle parking will be available in the field just north of library grounds.
Neu said the city’s focus is on ensuring peaceful assembly for any group that plans to attend. He said the city determined that closing the library was the best way to minimize any potential conflict.
ATX Resistance Action, an Austin-based loose coalition of liberally leaning activists ranging from libertarians to communists to socialists to Democrats to anti-fascists, plans to attend the event to create a visual and sound barrier between protesters and anyone attend the event.
Missy, an organizer in the group, said they had between 35 and 40 people planning to attend between their organization and other similar organizations. She declined to provide her full name for the story, citing safety concerns in the wake of the assault of one of their members by individuals from a group they have protested against.
On the other side of the spectrum, members of the Houston chapter of MassResistance confirmed they would have members protesting the event on Saturday, although they did not provide specific numbers.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated MassResistance an anti-gay hate group. MassResistance has rebuked the claim in past statements and a representative of the group called the Hill Country News on May 24 to further protest the SPLC’s designation.
Tracy Shannon, an activist with MassResistance, previously stated she believed Texas Nomads may participate in protesting the event.
Christopher Ritchie, who runs the Texas Nomads SAR, posted on MassResistance’s Facebook event about his plans to attend and coordination work he had completed ahead of the protest.
Texas Nomads SAR describes itself as “an organization of everyday people who are prepared to stand up and protect our streets and communities,” on Facebook.
The Texas Nomads SAR's mission statement on Facebook concludes, "We are ready to stand against anyone who shows themselves to be an enemy of this country and our way of life!”
Missy said her group has been tracking approximately 25 individuals from MassResistance, Texas Nomads and other organizations they believe will attend to protest the event.
Posts by both Ritchie and ATX Resistance Action have separately called for anyone attending to remain peaceful and be cognizant of their actions due to the children attending the event.