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When Denton Public Library staff organized the Rainbow StoryTime event for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, they knew they would get some negative feedback. They didn’t know they would ultimately cancel the event because of violent threats and misinformation.
Rainbow StoryTime was supposed to take place Saturday, featuring books about family, friendship and self-expression. It included titles like Michael Hall’s “Red: A Crayon’s Story” about a crayon that goes through an identity crisis, and “I’m a Girl” by Yasmeen Ismail about a girl who sometimes gets mistaken for a boy.
One of the books, “What Riley Wore” by Elana K. Arnold, was flagged by State Representative Matt Krause, a Fort Worth Republican, who recently made headlines for his list targeting books that “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.”
Director of Libraries Jennifer Bekker says the controversy over the story time event started last Tuesday, when library staff began receiving complaints and questions. By Wednesday, things got a lot worse.
“We became inundated with phone calls and emails from outside our community with people sharing that they did not like that a library was doing this program,” Bekker said.
The flood of complaints came after Don Huffines, a Republican candidate for Texas governor, called on the city to “end tax-payer funded transgender story time” and “fire employees.”
Bekker says she wouldn’t have canceled Rainbow StoryTime had it not been for the viral response on social media. Many who responded were from outside of Denton, including from other states like Georgia and California. Some commenters called for protests in front of the library during the event.
“Everyone has the right to peacefully protest,” Bekker said. “However, as we read the comments, on some of those protests, there were calls for violence.”
Staff forwarded those threats to the police and ultimately cancelled the event.
Denton City Council Member Deb Armintor first heard about the controversy from the city manager, who said people were complaining about the name of the Rainbow StoryTime event. Then, she started getting emails accusing library staff and parents of child abuse.
“[They included] just all sorts of misinformation about surgery and sexuality and alleged sexualizing kids that has nothing to do with what this event is about,” Armintor said.
Rather, Armintor says, it’s events like these that save lives in the LGBTQ community, which has historically seen higher rates of suicide among young people.
In a statement, the library said it plans to reschedule the event for another date, though it’s unclear when that may be.
“I’m glad it’s going to be rescheduled and these books will be read,” Armintor said. “It makes sense to cancel when there’s this threat of mob violence at an event with kids, you know, and these threats towards library workers.”
Correction: A previous version of this story said Denton City Council Member Deb Armintor first heard about the controversy from another city council member. Armintor first heard about the complaints from the city manager.