The Orillia Public Library has received “cruel” backlash for hosting a drag queen story time event.
Library CEO Bessie Sullivan says there were many inappropriate comments posted to the library’s event page on Facebook when it was announced.
“This is not the first time the Orillia Public Library has offered a drag queen story time,” she said. “We offered one in 2018 and it’s a common occurrence across most public libraries.”
The event is meant to promote equality, inclusiveness and diversity in the community, Sullivan says.
“The library and our new strategic plan is to promote and serve all members of our community,” she said.
While she says the library always invites and welcomes respectful discourse, the way frustration was being expressed online was not respectful.
“We had profanity and hatred,” she said. “Now that I’ve disabled the comments, I’m now being accused of not welcoming respectful discourse.”
Sullivan was prepared to face some backlash because of the event, but the amount of criticism and the crude nature of comments was unexpected.
“It may be a very small minority that just makes a lot of noise,” she said. “We have had families say they are going to come ahead of the event and camp out to make sure they get a spot because space is limited.”
The event is something Sullivan believes most in the community want to see happen.
She says it makes her sad to see such comments from other members of the community.
“I have no issue with people disagreeing with things that we do,” she said. “What I have an issue with is meanness and cruelty.”
It’s not just the library facing backlash.
Royal LePage broker Mike Stahls says he has been contacted by individuals who were angry with him for sponsoring an adult-only, ticketed Pride Month event at the Orillia Public Library even though he is not a sponsor of the drag queen story time event.
“They were all saying they don’t want children exposed to that,” he said. “They used the word ‘grooming.’ They think that children going to that event are going to think it’s OK to be gay.”
He said the negative response shows how important Pride events are in the community.
“The comments do ... show the need for having a mix of events that reflect Orillia’s own diversity. The library is a public space, and our taxpayers include people of many diverse groups,” said Stahls.
“One group should never decide if a program for another takes place. They have a free choice to attend what they want to attend and not attend those of no interest to them.”
It is also important, he said, for adults to “consider that despite their personal opinions on any given issue, LGBTQ2S+ youth are seven times as likely to attempt suicide.
“I don’t know what to say about an adult who is aware of that fact and still makes public derogatory comments about LGBTQ2S+ people online, where it will most certainly be read by those who may be in a vulnerable state.”
Sullivan says the hate has only fuelled the library’s determination for hosting events that promote inclusiveness and equality. The first-come, first-served event is going forward at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.