The team at my library prepared an inclusive International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia & Transphobia (IDAHOBIT Day) program for Friday May 17th 2019. IDAHOBIT was launched globally in 2004 to celebrate LGBTQI people.
Libraries do champion inclusion and tolerance of all people and celebrating IDAHOBIT Day is one way to help build increased understanding and inclusion of LGBTQI people in our communities. With over 75% of our Australian young LGBTQI people experiencing some form of discrimination it is important that we as a library service champion inclusion for LGBTQI people in our community. Our Library Service had a mixed program of events with a rainbow theme across a number of our branch libraries and the three Councils that we deliver library services for also had some of their own rainbow events on the day and were supportive of the program.
At our smallest branch, Whittlesea Library, we presented a Rainbow Storytime where a local drag queen joined our librarians to read to parents and their children. After announcing this on our branch Facebook page there was a furious backlash led by a ‘Political Posting Mumma’ Facebook page. There was also a nasty backlash directly aimed at the online social media of Drag Queen Annie who had agreed to perform at the library. Immediately major news outlets took up the story and the library service’s Drag Queen Storytime was suddenly on the 7pm news and the breakfast news shows the following morning.
So what did we learn.
- Courage: There was a furious backlash from portions of the far right and religious conservatives and the library had to stand up for our values: inclusion, tolerance and a library service that is welcome to all people. We did not back down from the Rainbow storytime or the program that we had put together to highlight the discrimination that our LGBTQI people still face today in the face of the continued online abuse. The library service underestimated the negative response this type of event attracts but for us it did not really reach deeply into our local library community.
- Good Policy needs to be in place: My Library Service has current and relevant Child Safe Policy and procedures, and all events at our libraries are attended and supervised by library staff. In this case, Drag Queen Annie also had a current Working With Children card. This was important as the abuse and complaint centered on the safety of the children who would be attending the Drag Queen storytime.
- Social Media Communication has a much wider reach than the local community: Marketing the event on our Facebook page reached a far wider audience than just the local community and indeed the prominent complaints came from outside the immediate local community. We made an initial mistake by taking the initial Facebook post down after it attracted huge negative comments (and some positive ones). A general notice on our website regarding our IDAHOBIT Day program and in particular our Drag Queen Storytime was posted so that the community had a place to make a comment, supportive or complaining. This comment area was modified with only profanity taken down and each comment acknowledged.
- Media Response was not to comment: Our agreed strategy was no comment from the library service. However, we agreed that Drag Queen Annie could comment about the individual bullying and abuse she was enduring and this became the focus of the media story, rather than the library hosting the event being the story. Drag Queen Annie is a performer with a number of personas and her children’s performance is based on promoting the joy of reading and that being different is okay. The fact that a divisive election campaign was also happening at the same time that included the Safe Schools program elevated the tensions surrounding LGBTQI inclusive events.
- Communication with our Councils and our Board: Keeping our Board of Directors and funding Councils in the loop regarding what was happening was very important. The Chair of the Board and the Councillor representing the Council the library resided in were individually contacted as well to discuss the issues raised, the library’s media strategy, and the proposed response on the day. All communication with the media was handled centrally with a disciplined narrative regarding the whole IDAHOBIT program and the aims of the day.
- Over Prepare for the day: with a call to arms going out on the conservative social media posts we put safety first. The local Police station was contacted and agreed to do a drive by in case protesters were to arrive. A security guard was employed to ensure the safety of Drag Queen Annie and make sure she could come and go safely and for the safety of the parents who brought their children to the event. Senior Library staff were all on hand for the day. Media were also in attendance and a local MP also decided to attend the event.
So what happened?
No protesters showed up and the close to 100 audience had a lovely story time and made a rainbow mask at the end. Only local media attended as another major story took over the airways and a small library’s storytime no longer featured. One formal complaint was made to the local Council and this was referred to the Library Service for a response. A formal response was made to the complaint and no further correspondence has yet been received. One complainant made three threatening telephone calls to different branches and in each encounter the caller’s behavior was so bad that staff were forced to hang up. The audience came from a much wider region than just the local community and there was a really positive response from the local community in support of the library. Residents and the local community rallied around the library and came in just to support staff and to wish the library well and to let us all know that we were doing the right thing in promoting tolerance and inclusion.
Our community’s response was mostly positive and I am thankful to every one of the library’s supporters who posted lovely positive messages to the library for the program we delivered to promote inclusion and tolerance. The Library Service also received lots of supportive messages from other Library Managers around the State. I am also immensely grateful to the library staff who developed , delivered and defended a values based program in the face of online public condemnation.