When Ellen Richmond, owner of the Children’s Book Cellar in Waterville, Maine, decided to organize a “Drag Story Hour“ during Central Maine Pride weekend, she said she thought there might be some pushback.
What she wasn’t anticipating was the uproar on social media and an organized protest. However, she said there’s also been considerable support for the event.
The Drag Story Hour is set for 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on June 1. Miss Valerie Honeywell will read a story and then children are invited to make crowns and wands, according to the Facebook event page. The event is a way to teach children about acceptance and tolerance, Richmond said.
Some of the backlash came after Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro criticized the event on social media, according to Richmond.
The Waterville Morning Sentinel obtained a screenshot of what Isgro reportedly said on his personal Facebook page and on the Maine Conservative Grassroots page.
“Scandalizing the children in our community — trying to make us San Francisco. Unanimous vote to celebrate by our entire council!” he wrote in the comments to a post on his personal page, according to the Morning Sentinel. The Waterville City Council unanimously approved a resolution making June 2 Central Maine Pride Day.
— Morning Sentinel (@OnlineSentinel) May 14, 2019
The story hour protest is planned to start an hour before the event, according to the Facebook event page.
“If you want to join we will meet at City Hall and March across the road with signs and banners, its (sic) time to bring morality back to our children not teach them sexual thoughts at a young age. Hope to see you there,” part of the event description says.
Other comments have been less tame, according to Richmond, noting that some of that is on the grassroots Facebook page.
“They have run with it and have spewed some of the foulest language and awful commentary,” she said.
The event’s Facebook page was shared to the grassroots group and received over 100 comments as of 3:45 p.m. on Tuesday.
Isgro did not return a request for comment. Boston.com also reached out to those listed as organizing the protest event on Facebook, but they were unable to comment Tuesday.
The bookstore has also received negative reviews to its Facebook page in response to the event.
“Drag is not an appropriate concept for children,” wrote one Facebook user. “I sincerely hope that the poor public relations decisions made by management do not economically affect the library workers.”
“shame on you for holding a drag pedophile queen story hour event .. what’s wrong with you…. Shame,” wrote another.
But others also added positive review.
“Thank you for being an inclusive and safe place for all children,” one user said.
Richmond said she hasn’t shut down anyone’s comments or blocked anyone from posting. She did ask users to refrain from explicit language on the bookstore Facebook page.
“PLEASE NOTE! A bookstore is a welcoming space, everyone is welcome and respected here,” she wrote in a separate post.
Richmond said she hasn’t received any threats, but she has spoken with local police and asked about her rights and the rights of the protestors.
When asked if she’s intimidated by the protest group, she said, “A bit.”
“But I’m more confident in what I’m doing is right than I am fearful, because I know there’s a lot of kids out there that need to know that they’re fine, they’re good,” she said.
Maddy Magnuson, part of Central Maine Pride’s planning committee and director of LGBTQ services at the Health Equity Alliance, said Pride has received much community support and those involved were “glad to see” the resolution passed by City Council.
“It appears there has been some backlash against that event in particular, but we’ve also struggled with support in Waterville, particularly from the mayor,” she said.
Central Maine Pride has been around for five years, she said, and its mission is to support LGBTQ people living in rural areas.
“We want to create a space that celebrates and welcomes everyone,” Magnuson said.
She also noted that exposing children to different lifestyles, like through the story hour, helps to forge conversations about acceptance.
“From my experience, it’s normalized with [children] when you bring it up early,” she said.
The idea for the story hour came from when Richmond attended the American Booksellers Association Children’s Institute last year, she said.
“They had two drag queens come in and model Drag Queen Story Hour, which is something that began in San Francisco, obviously, and it was just a matter of two men in drag reading stories to children,” Richmond said, adding that the event was really about “acceptance, tolerance, and being comfortable in your own skin.” “I was just kind of like, ‘This is great.’”
The bookstore has been around since 1987, and Richmond took ownership in 2002. She said she’s “always” carried books about LGBTQ issues.
“I’m not forcing anyone to come,” she said of the story hour. “No one’s going to be dragged in off the street.”