Ketchikan’s City Council on Thursday declined to cancel a Drag Queen Storytime event planned for later this month at the city-run library after some members of the community expressed concerns about the event celebrating Pride Month.
Three members of the public came to the City Council on Thursday to oppose the event scheduled for June 17, including Laura Antonsen.
“I strongly disagree with using my hard earned tax dollars for this type of program,” she said. “That’s not appropriate on any level for young, impressionable children who are not allowed into bars or venues where these highly sexualized adults perform for other adults.”
Ketchikan Public Library Director Pat Tully told KRBD Friday that during the June 17 storytime, a drag queen would read a book to preschoolers in a roughly half-hour event intended to encourage self-acceptance.
“The drag queen, whose name is Luna, she’s going to be reading a book called ‘The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish.’ It’s kind of based on the ‘Wheels on the Bus’ song,” she said. “It has wonderful illustrations. It’s very much a picture book and very much for young readers.”
Tully declined to identify the drag queen beyond their stage name except to say that they work in education. Tully says the library is not paying Luna, nor does it typically pay guest readers for storytime. She says most guest readers are city employees, from police officers to garbage collectors, or well-known figures like Tlingit master carver Nathan Jackson.
Back at the council meeting, five residents spoke in support of the Drag Queen Storytime event. Frankie Urquhart read a statement on behalf of Luna.
“I hear the concern over Drag Queen Storytime and understand that the concern comes from a place of misinformation and lack of knowledge of the topic. I encourage those opposed to seek credible resources and information before spouting hateful rhetoric. That being said, we also must call this behavior what it is: homophobia,” the statement read.
Council Member Riley Gass said he was not aware of the event until after the deadline to add items to Thursday’s meeting’s agenda had passed, so he attempted to add the topic mid-meeting.
Mayor Dave Kiffer ruled the motion out of order. He said because the topic wasn’t listed on the agenda, the state Open Meetings Act prohibited the council from taking any action.
“We didn’t tell the public, ‘Hey, we’re going to vote on this tonight — what do you think?’” he said.
Gass appealed to the council to overrule Kiffer with a five-member supermajority vote.
Council Member Mark Flora voted against bringing up the topic. He said it wasn’t the council’s job to micromanage the library’s events.
“I’ve been serving on the city council for six years. The library directors and other department heads, all other department heads, have never submitted their daily work to the City Council for approval. I think we need to stop and take a moment to realize what our role is,” Flora said.
Gass’s motion failed with just three votes in favor. He was joined by Council Member Jai Mahtani and Abby Bradberry in voting to advance the measure.
The council could address Drag Queen Storytime at its next meeting on June 16, one day before the scheduled event.