Public comment time during the St. Mary's commissioners' forum Tuesday night was mostly split between protesters of the Drag Queen Story Hour event at Lexington Park library late last month, and supporters of a community center, most of whom advocated for its construction in Lexington Park.
Roughly seven speakers decried the June 23 library event, sponsored by the Southern Maryland Secular Humanists and PFLAG of Leonardtown, a nonprofit group geared toward supporting LGBTQ initiatives. The story hour featured two drag queens — male performers dressed in extravagant women's clothes — reading books to approximately 35 children and their parents. The books contained themes of self-acceptance, tolerance and gender identity. Children, many clad in costume, then crafted crowns, drew pictures and had their faces painted.
A protester who disrupted that event was arrested and charged with five offenses, including disturbing the peace and resisting arrest.
Opponents argue that drag performance is inherently sexual, and that the national Drag Queen Story Hour program introduces sexual concepts to children at too young an age, which Hollywood resident Christina Timmons said is “a blatant attempt to ruin our kids into transgenderism.”
“Stop equating drag queens with transgender folks. Your ignorance is showing,” Samantha McGuire, president of the Washington Area Secular Humanists and coordinator of the group’s Southern Maryland chapter, said.
Transgender is a term that refers to a personal gender identity that differs from what one was assigned at birth. Drag is a performance of gender, often done by dramatizing femininity.
But Drag Queen Story Hour critics fear a larger agenda, one in which a “whole section of [the] LGBT community … wants to create sexual confusion” so “they will be able to convince these children to undergo dangerous, horrible, irreversible operations,” Timmons said. “And the public library is happily supporting this as freedom of speech. … This is a form of child abuse.”
“I've been warning you about this for two years. Shame on you for not doing the right thing when you had the chance,” said Georgia Kijesky told the commissioners. The Great Mills resident has previously objected to other library events, including a voluntary sex education class for teens and a "banned books" display.
“We don't want child sex grooming in our library,” Kijesky said.
“Why are you forcing the taxpayers to pay for something that has become a political tool of the left?” Hollywood resident Jennifer Mountjoy asked. “Let's lower the funding of the library to minimum levels.”
The St. Mary's library system did not sponsor the event, despite assertions from the event's opponents.
"The library paid nothing, in private or public funds," Michael Blackwell, director of the St. Mary's County Library, wrote in an email. "We were open our regular hours with regular staff. No money went out that we wouldn't have spent in any case."
“We reserved the rooms according to library policy,” McGuire said. “Just like Scout groups, church groups, baby-wearing groups, civic associations and all of the like do. These rooms are open to the entire community. And if they are not going to be, then they must be closed to the entire community. … Or that would be a violation of our First Amendment rights.”
McGuire said at the forum, “The fact that gay, lesbian, bi[sexual], trans and nonbinary youth are exposed to bigotry from adults in their families, schools and community, and they're [increasingly] more likely to take their own lives."
"Some of the people in this room expose themselves to be those very bigots,” she added, receiving jeers from one or two audience members.
Since the event, McGuire said one of the performer's “Twitter account has been flooded today with hate, and with threats.”
She added, “I feel my taxpayer money shouldn't be spent for the commissioners to sit in their chairs and endorse one religion over another.” Before the event last month, Commissioner Eric Colvin (R) addressed his “Christian brothers and sisters” during a commissioner meeting, urging for peace and tolerance.
Kijesky also criticized a blog post on the American Library Association's website, which she said was written by a St. Mary's librarian and outlined “tips and tricks” to bring in more LGBTQ-oriented content.
McGuire contended both performers had undergone background checks prior to the event.
A continued push
Community center supporters, who have consistently turned out to past forums to push for a shorter construction timeline, reiterated the need for a youth center in Lexington Park.
“We must move forward with this project. Our children and families in Lexington Park are in dire need,” Janice Walthour, speaking on behalf of the steering committee for a community youth center, said. In May, Walthour said 28 juveniles were arrested in the Lexington Park and south county area, many of them just 11 or 12 years old, adding to a total of 37 arrests of adolescents throughout the county.
Twenty-two juveniles were arrested in Lexington Park and Great Mills in May, according to the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office. Five more adolescents were arrested in California, Tall Timbers and St. Inigoes, according to the report.
There is “nowhere for children to be in the evening," Bernadette Miles of Lexington Park said. “Since so many things have been taken from the school system — home economics, sewing … Our community center could fulfill those missing components that are no longer in the school system.”
BJ Hall, St. Mary's NAACP chapter president, noted the steering committee has collected 1,033 signatures supporting a Lexington Park location, with a goal of 3,000.
“You said you'd support it if you could find a fiscally responsible way to execute it,” Hall told commissioners. “The county owns some land around Nicolet Park which falls in the opportunity zone.”
Opportunity zones are designated areas in distressed communities targeted for federal tax incentives. The county's only opportunity zone encompasses the area roughly within the confines of Chancellor’s Run Road, Buck Hewitt Road, Three Notch Road and Great Mills Road.
“We cannot wait until 2025,” when the center is scheduled for construction in the county's capital budget, Hall said. "Even if we have to pay for it ourselves."
He added that the community center debate is “hijacking a portion of my NAACP presidency," adding, “We have to deal with other things in the NAACP. We have underemployed people living in Lexington Park, right outside the [Naval Air Station Patuxent River] gate where people are making well over $100,000. We have 238 arrests in our schools in 2018, but we're talking about a community center. We have wait lists for affordance housing. … I'd rather be focusing my efforts on worker training, connecting minority businesses to resources," Hall said.
“I think we should consider other options” regarding the center's location, Aaliyah Fields, a Hollywood resident, said. “People in Lexington Park should see something other than their community life every day.”
“If it's not in Lexington Park, we need to make sure we have transportation” to the center, resident Mary Ludwig said.