A notice about a public hearing discussing the process for hiring a new Minnesota Hennepin County Library Director was brought to my attention within hours before the event was scheduled to begin. The hiring of a new library director is crucial because the individual will ultimately be in charge of programming decisions such as drag queen story hour (DQSH).
When I learned that the Hennepin County Library Board was meeting at the Ridgedale Library – the very same library where the exposed drag queen “Sasha Sota” flashed his crotch in a photo gone viral – there was no doubt in my mind I needed to attend the meeting.
On a night when I could have stayed home to watch presidential impeachment shenanigans, reviewed spelling words with my kid, or cleaned the house before company arrives next week, I instead sat at my computer, took some notes, changed clothes, and kissed my family goodbye, only to be stalled in holiday rush hour traffic.
All this to hear the latest left bend excuses at our taxpayer-funded library, with the hopes of sharing in person my concerns about how future DQSH will be promoted – if at all – under a new library director.
A time for public comments was scheduled for their first order of business. What I didn’t know was that, upon entering the door, I would be politely given the cold shoulder by being denied my opportunity for public comment. Yes, Minnesota “nice” just turned “ice.”
A total of five public attendees, including myself, were present. I was later informed that Child Protection League member Kelly Janssen alerted the Board – both before and after her public comment – that I would be arriving any minute. I also learned that board members verbalized (in so many words) that they would consider taking time to hear me speak at the end of their meeting.
Only after the meeting did I learn that Janssen had no sooner finished her three-minute public comment before the Board, than I walked in, within thirty seconds of her taking her seat. Unbeknownst to me, the Board had simply proceeded with the meeting, closing off the public comment agenda item, refusing to reopen it to allow me three minutes to speak.
Their meeting finished at least an hour ahead of schedule. Obviously, it was not a long meeting, and listening to another public comment for an extra three minutes was too much. Ironically, Library Board President Katherine Blauvelt approached me and spent nearly that exact amount of time – if not more – when I paraphrased to her personally what I planned to say publicly. She intended my comments to stay entirely off the record, appealing to Roberts Rules.
For the record, the following is what I was prepared to say:
“My name is Anne Taylor. I am a parent, a Hennepin County resident and library patron. We’ve heard of stories here and across the U.S. on Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) taking precedence in our local, tax-payer funded libraries – libraries to which I contribute.
I initially thought Drag Queen Story Hour was a hoax and simply unfathomable until I experienced one myself and in this very space.
The drag queen you hired to read at this library, “Sasha Sota,” strode in suggestively past the children, sitting down in a chair before several preschool-aged girls with his legs spread wide, exposing his nylon covered crotch in front of children sitting at eye level. He did this often while reading nervously before the children.
Upon reading his social media pages, it was discovered that this drag queen was not the only one actively involved in the adult entertainment industry.
Will the new Library Director perform background checks on their readers? Will the new Library Director force the public to celebrate this ‘difference’ by allowing adult men – who dress in scant clothing and moonlight in some of the most sexually charged adult entertainment industries – read to impressionable minors?
Should I expect that pole dancing and stripping is next on the list for children at our libraries under the new Director?
“Sasha Sota,” as is the case with other drag queens, had no background checks, and, according to the Hennepin County data request, each drag queen was paid $100, using donations from Friends of the Hennepin County Library.
This is gross misuse of funds in the name of culture, diversity, inclusion, customer focus, integrity and trust, vision and purpose, relationship management, organizational management, leadership and strategic resource management.
What I just mentioned are ALL the purposes listed in your position and qualification job sheet describing what YOU are looking for in a Library Director for Hennepin County.
In closing, I would like to know how the new Hennepin County Library Director will build support for a diverse and inclusive organization while representing the community in which they serve? Will the policy be one that keeps our children free from harm? Or one that continues to exploit children?
Thank you for providing me the opportunity to speak.”
It was interesting to hear Ms. Blauvelt repeat several times that our public comments don’t mean much to this Board and that instead, we should take our comments to the Commissioners. Well, Ms. Blauvelt, I believe that is your job. If you are going the play the pawn, then make it your responsibility to take public comments to the Commissioners and get back to the people who are demanding clear and concise answers.
Below is an example of the email exchange from Ms. Blauvelt from whom I never received a direct answer from regarding DQST at our libraries:
Sent: Wednesday, October 16, 2019 1:38 PM To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Suspending Drag Queen Story Time
To Whom it May Concern at the Hennepin County Library,
I am writing to request that Drag Queen story time be suspended until the public can be further notified of the following:
1) Who is the source(s) responsible for Drag Queen story time (ie: local, federal, “private funders”)
2) How much are Drag Queens being paid to read to children during storytime (both through taxes and private sources/donations).
3) Are Drag Queens – again, who are in close proximity to minors – going through a series of background checks before being vetted to read to children?
4) Do Hennepin County workers receive background checks being they are in close proximity to minors?
As taxpaying citizens, we have the right to have this disclosed. This is NOT about whether someone is gay, straight, trans or otherwise – this is about protecting children and the public.
Drag Queens are noted for being involved in the adult entertainment industry. That does NOT mean every Drag Queen is a pedophile, however; the capacity in which the Drag Community is involved in (ie: highly, sexually charged environment) most definitely calls for such action to warrant background checks.
To leave you with an example, a recent Drag Queen at one of your libraries is noted for emceeing “Sunday Shower” at the Saloon in downtown Minneapolis.
I would encourage you to read the link on what happens at these events according to a City Pages interview. Drag Queen story time is a public safety issue.
Finally, Drag Queen story time does not teach children inclusion – it only furthers the agenda of endangering our most innocent, opening them up to what is deemed a dark and adult world.
I look forward to your prompt response.
Below is Katherine Blauvelt’s response, as well as the response from Interim Hennepin County Library Director, Janet Mills. Take note that none of my questions were directly answered:
From: Katherine Blauvelt Sent: Thursday, October 17, 2019 6:26 AM To: Anne Taylor Subject: Re: Suspending Drag Queen Story Time
Thank you for reaching out and sharing your views with the library board. I have shared your e-mail with library staff, so that they can share information that is responsive.
President, Hennepin County Library Board
From: Mills, Janet Sent: Thursday, October 17, 2019 2:33 PM To: anne taylor Cc: Blauvelt, Katherine Subject: Suspending Drag Queen Story Time
Dear Ms. Taylor,
Thank you for reaching out to express your concerns.
This fall, Hennepin County Library is offering Stories Together with Drag Performers programs at 15 libraries. The programs take place in our meeting rooms and are funded by individual community members’ contributions. Similar to our Family Storytimes, Stories Together with Drag Performers programs are designed for children ages 2-6. Librarians work with the drag performers to co-create a developmentally appropriate storytime that incorporates picture books, as well as children’s songs and rhymes. These programs give children a chance to celebrate self-expression, dress up, and gender fluidity through stories, rhymes, music and movement.
Our Stories Together with Drag Performers events are carefully planned by a team of staff and youth services librarians, and performers are identified by our staff, based on past program success and long-standing relationships within the LGBTQIA+ communities we serve. All artists who are hired for Stories Together with Drag Performers participate in an in-depth training prior to events, and staff, as well as caregivers, are always present with the children for these programs.
Hennepin County Library strives to offer diverse programs so that patrons can hear stories that reflect and honor difference and that promote inclusion, awareness and understanding. Our drag storytimes are planned in response to interest expressed by patrons, and many families are excited to attend, and they express their appreciation for this programming opportunity. We have received positive feedback from parents and caregivers that Stories Together programs have helped them have conversations about gender identity with their children, identify books they can share with their child or young people in their lives, and find community with other parents who identify as members of the LGBTQIA+ community. This is especially important to us as part of our work to reduce disparities and serve LGBTQIA+ youth because we know that social connections, community support and resources can be life-saving and life-changing.
Thank you again for reaching out and giving me a chance to share more about these programs.
I was amazed to hear them plan during their meeting that evening, how they would handle public comments during the interview process for hiring the new Library Director. I could hear them slowly remove opportunities for public input. They discussed how they may shut off public comments from their social media in order block negative public feedback.
The Board even came up with the idea that conducting their meetings at the Government Center in downtown Minneapolis would be a good idea.
But here’s the real reveal: although I was denied the opportunity to speak publicly on DQSH, Ms. Blauvelt shared with me that she agreed to disagree with me that “Sasha Sota” actually flashed children; nor does she agree that paying drag queens is a misuse of public library funds.
Vice President Library board member Erin Vrieze Daniels repeatedly cited the need for the new Library Director candidate to “show off” Hennepin County! Really? “Sasha Sota” seemed to do that pretty well by revealing himself.