City of Leander

Peaceful Pride Storytime provides welcome contrast to library controversy

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The Pride Storytime held Saturday at the Leander Public Library was peaceful, simple and without incident. Several parents who attended the event said they enjoyed it and appreciated it helping them and their children feel accepted and recognized by the community. 

Library staff provided crafts and activities for the children during the event in addition to reading three stories:  Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austian, And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, and Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love.

The relatively mundane event, which the library normally holds every June to celebrate Pride Month, unintentionally provided a sharp contrast to the most recent Pride Storytime held during the Leander church Open Cathedral's LGBTQA-supportive festival.

The library had to be closed during that storytime due to safety concerns. Approximately 300 people showed up to protest outside in support or opposition to the event.

The consequences of the City of Leander's controversial decisions earlier this year to cancel a Drag Queen Story Hour, which has drawn national criticism and prompted Open Cathedral to host its event, and its subsequent, resulted in a months-long ban on outside performers until the Leander City Council approved new rules, which it did in August. The political backlash drove divisive debate and protests at Leander and Cedar Park city council meetings for  for months, resulting in frequent disruptions of each meeting.

In the wake of the events, the Leander Council ended public rental of library rooms in August in a divided vote. The cost of policing the protest was cited during the debate.

But on Saturday, the event was finally held after being delayed for months. It was calm, positive and recalled a sense of normalcy from before the controversy.

The only notable incident was that several members of the Killeen chapter of Disciples for Christ Motorcycle Ministry attended the event. Several of the locally-based members of the chapter had prayed with Cedar Park Council member Dorian Chavez back in June, ahead of the first meeting, where he received protests and calls for his resignation because him attended the protest against the Open Cathedral event.

A minister with the group, who attended holding a Bible and would only give his "motorcycle community" name of Overhaul, said they did not attend Saturday's event to evangelize to any attendees but simply had wanted to observe and learn more about what goes on at these types of events.

Library staff asked all adults without accompanying children to wait outside of the children's library room during the event. All adults complied with the instruction without incident.

In total, 24 adults and their children attended the library's storytime and several said they're already looking forward to the next one.

New rules impacting religious groups

In the two months since the council passed new library rules and banned public rental of library rooms, the groups most impacted have actually been religious groups and private organizations, such as HOAs.

In immediate aftermath of the council ending rentals, Leander's Pathway Bible Church and other private organizations who rented library rooms have been displaced.

The room rental ban also directly prevents Open Cathedral from hold another LGBTQA-supportive festival to promote their views of acceptance for all people, including LGBTQA individuals. 

However, in practice over the last few months, it has actually had a bigger impact on several religious groups interested in hosting Bible readings in response to Pride events. 

Under a combination of city, state and federal laws, libraries cannot discriminate against the LGBTQ community and other groups. Libraries can hold generalized events recognizing a holiday season. But, due to the separation of church and state, they cannot hold event promoting a specific religious group, such as a Bible reading, over other religious or non-religious groups.

As a result, religious groups traditionally have to host religious-focused events themselves - something they can no longer do at the Leander library due to the room rental ban.

Overhaul said Saturday he would have wanted to hold his own event to read Bible passages but cannot due to the rules.

Jerry Daugherty, another member of the group who attended Saturday, held his Rainbow Day storytime about Noah's Ark in a room he rented at the Cedar Park Public Library since he couldn't in Leander.

Other individuals and activists have reported not being able to hold similar events since they cannot rent rooms.

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