Ketchikan’s City Council opted to uphold the city manager’s decision to not hold a drag queen story time at the public library this year, a decision which came after heated testimony Tuesday.
The public library’s drag queen story time is in contention for the second year in a row. The topic dominated two Ketchikan City Council meetings and dozens of residents testified for hours last year. The council ultimately voted 5-2 to not cancel the event as part of the Ketchikan Public Library’s Pride Month programming in June. The event was very popular, and as space was limited, required two additional readings to accommodate all who wanted to attend.
Library Director Pat Tully planned to hold drag queen story time again for Pride Month in June, but City Manager Delilah Walsh directed staff to not program it citing last year’s pushback.
The City Council considered two motions Tuesday night. The first was whether to overturn Walsh’s decision, and, if that passed, the council would consider establishing a separate policy supporting programming that promotes understanding and acceptance of marginalized groups in the community.
John Holstrom attended the meeting and testified that drag queen story time has divided the community, not brought it closer together.
“How much time and resources is this council willing to consume before it acknowledges that the majority of the citizens do not want the public library, or any other department of the city, pushing and funding moral or political agendas?” he asked.
Others claimed drag queen story time exposed children to perversion, indoctrinated them, and made the library an unsafe place for kids. Several commented that the council should support the city manager’s decision and focus its energy on issues such as infrastructure and transportation needs.
David Dentinger, another attendee, was in favor of the event, citing last year’s decision.
“This city council has already considered and rejected the arguments for canceling this event,” Dentinger said. “The borough assembly and a majority of borough voters have refused to punitively defund the library for holding the events. Our city attorney warned us that this type of censorship was illegal.”
Others said it supported a marginalized group, promoted diversity and allowed LGBTQ+ children to know there are others like them.
About two dozen people testified against the event, with only about half that many supporting the drag queen story time.
Council member Janalee Gage moved to overturn Walsh’s decision. But council member Riley Gass then made a formal objection.
Gass explained that last year he had brought forward a motion to not allow the event, and was told by members of the public and some council members that he was micromanaging. At that time there was an acting manager.
“’It is our job to select the manager and trust in their rulings and if we don’t like it to fire them:’ that’s a quote that was said at the meeting on this topic last year,” Gass said. “So I would argue that the tides have changed. We need to honor our trust that we have given to the manager and allow her to make this decision for the interest of the community.”
He added public comment supported not allowing the event.
“We’re talking about democracy and support,” he said. “People who showed up and spoke on this, I kept a tally. Everyone was clearly on one side or the other. It was 28 to 12 in favor of the manager’s decision so I think that also backs up my reasoning.”
Council members Abby Bradberry, Lallette Kistler and Jai Mahtani supported Gass’ objection resulting in the required two-third majority vote. Gage and Council member Jack Finnegan voted against the objection. Council member Mark Flora was absent from Tuesday’s meeting. No discussion followed.
Disclosure: Jai Mahtani is also a member of KRBD’s nonprofit board of directors, which does not direct the newsroom.