Canceling a planned reading by a drag queen at Ketchikan’s public library could be illegal, according to the city’s attorney. In a written opinion, City Attorney Mitch Seaver tells the city council that a proposal to nix the event could open the city to civil rights lawsuits and other penalties. He says it could also run afoul of a local nondiscrimination ordinance, state civil rights law and the U.S. Constitution.
“Canceling the Library’s Drag Queen Story Time event risks litigation, administrative enforcement or both being brought against the City for violation of civil rights on constitutional, statutory and ordinance grounds,” Seaver wrote.
The storytime event scheduled for Friday is one of a few activities the library planned for Pride Month. The library director says the reading, which is open to the public, is an effort to promote inclusivity. But it’s been controversial, with some residents calling for the library to cancel the reading and others encouraging the library to go forward with the event as planned.
On Thursday, a day before the planned storytime, Ketchikan’s City Council is scheduled to consider a proposal from City Council Member Riley Gass to cancel the event.
The city attorney’s 10-page memo comes in response to Gass’s proposal. In the memo, Seaver ticks through several cases from state and federal courts that outline the constitutional principle that governments aren’t allowed to pick and choose which viewpoints are expressed in public spaces.
“Denying access to the library for Drag Queen Story Time based solely on the nature of the beliefs involved could be found a violation of the constitutional rights to freedom of speech and association and equal protection under the law,” Seaver wrote.
Seaver says the proposal to cancel the drag queen storytime could also violate a local civil rights ordinance that outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. And he says the state’s civil rights law has also been interpreted by the Alaska Human Rights Commission to outlaw discrimination agianst LGBTQ people after a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision. He says a drag queen reading “would seem to fall within that category.”
Ketchikan’s City Council meets at 7 p.m. Thursday in its City Hall chambers. The meeting is broadcast online and on local cable channels. Members of the public have a chance to weigh in at the beginning of the meeting.