Library facilitates background checks born in 2019 drag queen flap
Wichita Libraries are recalling a policy requiring criminal and sexual background checks of all program hosts, a rule born two years ago amid the backlash from drag queens reading storybooks.
The relaxed rules approved by the library board on Tuesday would still require checks for presenters of children’s and teens programming and presentations involving one-on-one interaction between presenters and patrons.
But the presenters of programs intended for groups of adults will no longer have to undergo the in-depth investigation.
The rule change was passed by the library board in a near unanimous vote with only one board member, Shelby Petersen, voting no. After the meeting, she declined to explain her vote.
Library director Jaime Prothro recommended the changes, saying the background check requirement has prevented libraries from hosting several worthy community programs, such as a poetry class that includes microphone poetry readings. open.
The rules were also unworkable to host programs like 1 Million Cups, a Kauffman Foundation project that encourages small business owners to give short speeches sharing their experiences with other entrepreneurs, she said.
Training all of these people “just wasn’t feasible and we saw that we weren’t able to create these community development experiences,” said Prothro.
The screening policy would also prevent libraries from hosting a planned educational program called “Frank Conversation,” where panels of former convicts can talk about criminal justice reform and how they changed their lives after serving time. their grief, she said.
She said it doesn’t make much sense to check the background of these people when library staff already know they have a criminal history.
“So if you have a sex offender you say you’re not going to do a criminal background check?” Petersen asked.
Prothro responded, “In our work with our program partner, we identify the panelists in accordance with our policy. The policy therefore states that we will not work with individuals who have been convicted of sex crimes.
Library board member and state representative Chuck Schmidt D-Wichita spoke out in favor of the policy change.
“We went through a lot a few years ago with the (drag queen) controversy and I wondered at the time if we were not going too far,” he said.
The background check requirement for all presenters was put in place in 2019, about a year after the library hosted “Tell YAAAS to Read”.
At the event, men dressed in flamboyant female costumes read storybooks in front of an audience of over 200 parents and children.
Although the presentation was widely praised by its attendees, it infuriated some religious conservatives who urged the board to ban such presentations altogether.
When that effort failed, the background check rule was proposed by Craig Coffey, pastor of a small church in Derby.
In his communications with the Library Board, Coffey called the LGBTQ population “dysfunctional” and “certainly not a healthy role model for innocent children.” He also alleged that the library event violated city ordinances prohibiting “lewd and lascivious public behavior, sexual misconduct and the promotion of obscenity towards minors.”
Thomas Witt of Equality Kansas said at the time that the background check request was simply a slap in the face of the LBGTQ people, implying that they are criminals.
There has been no other drag queen story since the 2018 event, library officials said.
This story was originally published 21 December 2021 3:08 pm.