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Acadiana Open Channel weighs in on drag queen story time

Posted: 10:26 AM, Aug 22, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-22 12:08:00-04

The Board of Directors of AOC Community Media has issued a letter of support for Free Speech and the Drag Queen Story Time planned at the Lafayette Library.

Last night, people packed the Lafayette City-Parish Council meeting to speak in support of the Lafayette Parish Public Library’s plan to join cities across the country who host a drag queen story time . This one would be performed by members of a UL fraternity, for children in October. Their support was spurred by a statement by Mayor-President Joel Robideaux, who said he planned to try to get the event cancelled.

Neither the Mayor-President’s Office nor the City-Parish Council have any authority over library programming. That duty is invested in the Library Board of Control, the members of which are appointed by Lafayette entities. The library’s programming committee, which is made up of librarians with master’s degrees in library science, already has approved the program, as they do all programs at the library.

An ad-hoc committee, also made up of professional librarians, also met to discuss this particular program, said Director Teresa Elberson.

“All of us are professional librarians upholding American Library Association’s Bill of Rights ,” she said. “We felt the program was appropriate. We especially felt that way because we were giving the choice to a parent, and explaining what the program was, so there would be no confusion, and left it up to the parents.”

The Library Board of Control must adhere to the Louisiana Open Meetings Law, so any discussion on the program would be on a future agenda, Elberson said. As of today, it’s not on any future agenda.

Elberson said there have been threats and hateful calls and messages sent to her staff, but of the dozens of people who appeared at last night’s council meeting, only one spoke against the program. She added there also have been calls of support, from Lafayette and from around the world.

Here’s the Official Statement of the AOC Community Media Board of DIrectors:

AOC’s mission from the beginning has been to provide a platform for all voices in our
community, especially those that go unheard due to lack of commercial viability, existing
community support, or popularity.

The Lafayette Public Library has announced an upcoming program that would feature local
UL students dressed in drag and reading a library approved story or two to an audience of all
ages, but aimed primarily at children. To say that there has been a public blowout is an
understatement.

The people in opposition to our Library’s programming are doing exactly what the First
Amendment allows for. They are truly exercising their rights in the most direct manner possible.
In their zeal to stop an event about which they seem to be largely uneducated they are happily
asking their government to shut down those things they disagree with. In other words they’re
asking for censorship. They’re saying that the other side doesn’t have the same privilege of free speech that they themselves are using.

It sets a very dangerous precedent to refuse this particular group the opportunity to engage
with a willing audience based upon flawed reasoning that the venue is public and therefore
shouldn’t host any programs deemed unworthy by a chorus of opposition.

If the argument was about eminent public harm that would be different. The argument is
only that they disagree with the library’s choice of programming. It is wonderful that we have
citizens who aspire to certain moral standards–those citizens help us to focus our moral center.
However, to allow one group to set the moral standard for a deliberately pluralistic society
seems at the very least to be contrary to the Constitution which sits at the center of our republic.

Try asking the library to remove copies of Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn or Fahrenheit
451. This just isn’t done in the America we all love and support.

Ignoring or inhibiting unfamiliar voices leads to the perpetuation of ignorance, intolerance,
distrust and hostility. Silencing voices doesn’t maintain an open society or even create unity–if
anything, denying anyone their voice divides us and harms the American ideals that we have
held since our inception.

Understanding, tolerance, and trust are built by listening to, not silencing each other.At
least allow those of us who want to learn to have that opportunity. Events like this one are not
compulsory; no one is forced to attend or even strongly encouraged to attend. People are free to attend or not.

As a community we can’t allow anyone to censor voices they disagree with or oppose.
We believe that providing space for new ideas not only honors the first amendment of the
constitution and the core values of the United States as a nation of new ideas, but also, that it is the best way to grow as a public and as a community.

Public space is the best space for free speech.