After its earlier moves to halt rentals of its community room and cancel some events with live performers, this week the Leander Public Library abruptly canceled the appearance of an Austin-based comic writer as a part of the library’s weekly graphic novel book club. The writer, who has written for DC Comics, is a transgender woman.
The moves come in the wake of a highly-publicized pride festival and story time event held by an LGBTQ-friendly church that brought protestors and national media attention.
This week’s cancellation of the appearance of award-winning comic book writer Lilah Sturges came as a part of a previously unannounced expansion of the plan to cancel library events until the city council can consider changes to the library’s programming and room rental policies.
Sturges, who planned to discuss her work on the popular comic series “Lumberjanes,” said the talk was originally scheduled at the request of the library back on May 7.
Sturges is known for co-writing the Eisner Award-nominated “Jack of Fables” comic series along with her work with Vertigo Comics and DC Comics.
City of Leander spokesperson Michael Neu confirmed that the library sent an email to Sturges just two hours before Tuesday’s planned talk was set to begin, cancelling the event due to “unforeseen circumstances.”
“We weren’t aware it had been scheduled. We weren’t aware it had been promoted until today,” Neu said. “As soon as we became aware of it, we reviewed it the same way we reviewed previous events and said ‘this is not something we would have moved forward with had we know about it at the time.’”
On Tuesday, Neu confirmed its prohibition on certain library events has been expanded to include any event that is not directly organized by city or library staff, or isn’t included in the Central Texas Library System’s slate of recommended performers. The prohibition is pending completion of the city’s review of how library events are selected and screened.
He said Sturges' appearance would not have been canceled under the original plan, since it didn’t involve ‘performers,’ but said the city decided to change the temporary halt to include “all events involving outside groups meeting with or at least hosting an activity in front of children and young adults.”
As to canceling Sturges' appearance with just two hours’ notice, Neu said, “There are some communication challenges we have internally with the library, so we’re working on that.”
Sturges, who has appeared at numerous libraries, schools and bookstores, said she was surprised by the cancellation and would have been more than willing to submit to a background check, despite never having been asked for a background check for any of her previous appearances around the country.
Last week, the city announced a halt to all library room rentals following the pride event and a related protest at the library. Weeks before, the city announced cancelation of a superhero-themed event for children, citing the temporary moratorium on such events.
Neu said these policy changes are not indefinite, but will remain in place until city and library staff can complete a review of the library’s programs and present their findings to the city council.
However, Neu said the city doesn’t expect to be able to complete that review and make a presentation to the council for at least a month.
“The (June 15 story time event and related protest) created a unique circumstance for the city, which prompted our review,” Neu said. “We want to ensure we’re able to accommodate any future meetings or events hosted in a city facility, as well as set appropriate expectations of ourselves and the public.”
Neu said the Leander Parks and Recreation Department is leading the review, in collaboration with library staff, the police department and other city officials who made the original decision to cancel the Drag Queen Story Time pending a library program review and the decision to close the library during the event for public safety.
Neu said the eventual presentation to the city council will include a summary of “what works or doesn’t work in the policy,” how it compares to other cities’ policies, options available to the council for changes to the existing policy, and a report on the city’s costs for policing the June 15 protest.
Neu also said that results from a public survey, which has received about 800 responses, will be included in that presentation to the council.
Editor's notes: This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of the author's name as Lilah Sturges.
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