British Columbia

Drag Queen Storytime is 'controversial' and 'potentially divisive,' says Okanagan library CEO

"The announced program, while claiming to be promoting diversity and acceptance, will be offensive to a significant segment of our society," said Okanagan Regional Library CEO Don Nettleton in the memo. 

Over 160 people participated in the event on Sept. 14, says drag queen Freida Whales

Drag queens read, sing and dance with kids during Drag Queen Storytime at the Kelowna branch of the Okanagan Regional Library on Sept. 14, 2019. (Freida Whales/Facebook)

A new storytime event at Kelowna's downtown library branch is ruffling some feathers. 

One of its participants is speaking out against a memo issued by the Okanagan Regional Library's CEO, Don Nettleton, which called the branch's first ever Drag Queen Storytime event "controversial" and "potentially divisive." 

The library invited local drag queens to come read stories to young children during their storytime hour. According to the Okanagan Regional Library website, the program "helps children develop empathy, learn about gender diversity and difference and tap into their own creativity."

In his memo, Nettleton suggested that there needs to be a policy set for controversial programming so that staff have something to refer to in the future when planning events. He also listed several concerns with the Drag Queen Storytime program.

"The announced program, while claiming to be promoting diversity and acceptance, will be offensive to a significant segment of our society," Nettleton said in the memo. 

Nettleton said he's also concerned the library could lose its reputation as a "middle of the road" or "neutral" safe environment for children's programming. He said part of the Okanagan Regional Library leadership team sees offering a program like this to children ages three to six as inappropriate. 

'Outdated' memo 

But local drag queen and storytime participant Freida Whales calls the language in the memo outdated.

"It looks like it was written in the 1990s. Some of the language in there was just really inexcusable for today's date," said Whales, live in studio, to Chris Walker,the host of CBC's Daybreak South.

Whales, whose real name is Tyson Cook, said his goal is to show kids they can be whoever they want to be. 

"My agenda is to read stories to kids, just have a great time making anyone happy and entertaining anybody," he said. 

He said there were about 160 people people who attended the event and that most of the feedback he's received has been positive.

Drag queen Freida Whales, pictured in the blue wig holding the book, reads to young kids during Drag Queen Storytime in Kelowna, B.C., on Sept. 14, 2019. (Freida Whales/Facebook)

Okanagan Regional Library chair Karla Kozakevich said the memo is being reviewed by the board because Nettleton received letters and phone calls complaining about the event. 

Speaking for herself not and not on behalf of the board, Kozakevich said the library should be offering a variety of programs for children and that it's ultimately the parent's decision to bring their children to the program.

In a letter sent to the CBC, Nettleton declined an interview stating that the matter is now in the hands of the library board. 

Kozakevich said next steps include the policy and planning committee collecting feedback through early October. She said the board is also considering hosting a meeting where stakeholders can attend and voice their opinions.

Another Drag Queen Storytime event is slated for November. 

To listen to the full interviews with Karla Kozakevich and Freida Whales, click the audio links below:

With files from Daybreak South