Thursday, June 13, 2024

Hastings council cancels drag queen ‘storytime’ after death threats

Hastings District Council says a disinformation campaign by a local church has forced the cancellation of a children’s storytime library event set to be hosted by drag queens.

The ‘Hastings Library Rainbow Storytime’ event and a ‘Living Library’ event with drag queens, Erica and CoCo Flash (both pictured at an earlier storytime event), were set to take place tomorrow.

Hastings Library has hosted these events previously in 2020 and 2022, when they proved popular with children and their parents, Council said in a statement.

“Erica and CoCo Flash are drag artists who travel the country visiting libraries and other spaces to share messages of acceptance, inclusion, tolerance and self-belief,” the Council said.

“Dressed in glamorous, colourful attire they read children stories from children’s books such as Giraffes Can’t Dance and The Book with no Pictures.”

The Council says disinformation being spread about the events has forced the cancellation, with the organisation citing “concerns the young attendees cannot be kept safe”.

“While the programmes have run in previous years with no issues, this year Destiny Church has led a campaign of disinformation about the programmes, and Council is concerned about public safety in light of planned protests.”

The Council says library staff, councillors and Council customer service staff have received a large number of messages falsely accusing the events of being a platform for sexual grooming of young people.

“As time has gone on these messages have in some instances been intimidating and threatening, including death threats to the performers,” Council says.

“There is no sexual content in these programmes, they are age appropriate, and designed to be entertaining and fun. It is the parents’ choice whether their children attend, and the programme takes place at an upstairs section of the library away from the general public library area.”

“These stories are publicly accessible children’s stories designed to make young people feel good about themselves, to promote positive self-image, to celebrate diversity.

“While Council is aware of planned protests and would like to think they would be peaceful, it was not possible to control who would attend and their potential behaviour, making it difficult to manage.

Council says it conducted a risk assessment along with keeping regular contact with police, to help inform its decision making.

Hastings Mayor, Sandra Hazlehurst said she was deeply disappointed to cancel the event.

“We had every intention of standing up to this intimidation and going ahead, but unfortunately the potential for there to be possibly aggressive protests outside the library is something we can’t subject our children and the rest of the community to,” she said.

“We have a responsibility to keep people safe at our facilities, and the escalation of hateful and bigoted rhetoric around this event, coupled with the huge costs and the strain on resources to bring in security to ensure people’s safety, means we are in a position this year that we can’t guarantee attendees’, staff and the performers’ safety.

“We look forward to holding this event again in the future.”

Councillor Wendy Schollum who has attended Rainbow Storytime events in the past with her young children said: “In Heretaunga Hastings we pride ourselves on being a welcoming, inclusive community where everyone, no matter their lifestyle or life choices can feel safe and able to express their individuality without fear.

“To have a small segment of our community twist the intention of this event to peddle another agenda and shut it down is very hard to stomach, and I wish to express my sympathy to our Rainbow community and supporters, and the performers, that we have been forced into this position.

“Our libraries are places that cater for all views and values – not everyone will agree with all the programmes that are run but that’s part of being in a society that embraces and reflects our people and all their differences. People have a choice to attend these programmes or not, and the actions of those protesting these events have taken that choice away from the rest of our community.”

Another performance by Erica and CoCo Flash scheduled to take place at the Rotorua Library last week was also cancelled, with Rotorua Lakes Council also citing safety and disinformation concerns.

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