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Lawmaker introduces bill seeking to criminalize drag queen story hours in MO

Missouri bill seeks to criminalize drag queen story time.
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Drag Queen Story Hour

A bill in Missouri, if passed, could mean that any library official who decides to hold a Drag queen story hour without approval from an elected parental review board might get fined more than $500 and spend up to a year in prison.  

State Rep. Ben Baker’s Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act makes it a requirement for all Missouri public libraries to have elected review boards that would oversee everything from library displays to public events.

Baker assures the public that this proposal has nothing to do with literary censorship but is a response to the often polarizing attitudes toward drag queen story hours conducted in big cities around the state. 

"They've had these drag queen story hours, and that's something that I take objection to and I think a lot of parents do," Baker said. "That's where in a public space, our kids could be exposed to something that’s age-inappropriate. That’s what I’m trying to tackle."

The bill states that any librarian who strays from decisions made by the parental review boards face misdemeanor charges.

Baker represents Newton County which has never hosted a drag queen library reading, but larger cities in Missouri have, and conservatives have taken up a cause against them.

"It's just based on fear," Shira Berkowitz, communications manager for the Missouri LGBTQ advocacy organization PROMO said about the bill's supporters. "The oppositional spin is that these [events] are supposedly dangerous in a religious context, or dangerous because LGBTQ people are sexualized. Right-wing media spinning a reading experience for children into something sexual is what is creating bills like this."

They add that there is nothing sexual about a drag queen story hour, it's all done in fun. 

"I think what [Baker] gets wrong is that libraries are creating a very safe space for children to be read to, in a gentle environment and in a very playful and whimsical way," they said. "They’re not encroaching on any kind of sexual content."

Children’s library director at St. Joseph Public Libraries, Josh Swindler, who organized his own drag queen story hour in September to some protest says if the bill is signed into law is censorship plain and simple. 

"As a library, obviously, we are opposed to any sort of authoritarian enforcement of censorship," he said. "And that's kind of how we are interpreting this bill."

He also addressed the notion that drag queens are trying to make kids gay by exposing them to that type of entertainment. 

"We absolutely are not trying to indoctrinate anybody," he said. "We're just trying to give an equal voice to every member of our community."

Berkowitz says a bill like this limits LGBT presence in a state that still holds discriminatory policies. 

"The visibility of LGBTQ culture is extremely important, especially in a state like Missouri where you can still be fired from your job, denied housing or knocked out of public services simply for being gay or transgender," they said.

Gay teens are five times more likely to contemplate dying by suicide as opposed to their heterosexual counterparts. Studies have shown that acceptance by even one person is enough to ease those thoughts by up to 40-percent. 

Swindler says a bill such as the one being proposed could have a devastating impact on LGBT youth seeking acceptance in Missouri. 

 "We believe that offering programs that affirm LGBTQ youth saves lives," he said.