Talcott's Drag Q&A: where and why
The Talcott Free Library’s controversial Drag Q&A has been moved to 4:30-5:30 p.m. on Friday, July 14, 2023. Participants who want to attend the virtual Zoom event need to register in advance. After registering, the library says participants will get an email with the link to join the webinar Friday at 4:30 once registration is approved.
The event was originally scheduled in person at the library, but after a board meeting accompanied by hundreds of protesters on both sides, Talcott Library director Megan Gove said in a July 3 announcement, “Safety of everyone is our first priority. After talking with the police/fire departments this past week in multiple discussions of the huge number of people on both sides planning to attend, we have determined an in-person event will not be safe for our patrons or presenter at this time.”
More about the drag event
Gove added, "The police and fire departments conservative estimate is that approximately 1,000-1,500 people angry with each other are going to show up to Rockton. This is an unmanageable situation for our very small downtown area."
But Rockton Police Chief Matt Hollinger told the Rockford Register-Star that he didn’t tell Gove that a live event would be unsafe.
The Register-Star quoted Hollinger as saying, "Absolutely not did we give her directions of what she could not do… That was a conclusion she came to on her own."
Rockton Mayor John Peterson said he supported Gove's decision to turn the Q&A into a virtual event.
"My number one concern is the kids who are wanting to go there and thinking of them having to walk through a loud group of screaming adults. That wouldn't be good for them," he told the Register-Star. "And number two, of course, the downtown and downtown businesses."
The Rockton library has set several guidelines for the virtual event:
- No list of participants will be shown. Cameras and microphones will be disabled.
- Chat/questions will only be received by the moderator- no one else will be able to see any messages.
- A library card number will be required for registration—those with Talcott cards will get priority for registration, followed by Talcott residents without cards. If you do not have a library card just type N/A. We hope to allow every person interested in but the level of interest in this program has become so high we’re not sure if we’ll be able to.
- There will be one link per registrant. You will not be able to reuse the link once logged in.
- There is a section of the registration form for questions—please feel free to include questions ahead of time that you would like asked during the program.
- All participants are expected to follow the Patron Code of Conduct and will be expelled from the program if their behavior is not in accordance with it. There will be no warning.
Two opposing groups were prominent in the June 26 protests, the Rockford Family Initiative and a new group, Rockton Pride. This week from Monday through Wednesday (July 10-12, 2023), a small group from Rockford Family Initiative has been standing on the grass in front of the library, holding signs saying “Protect the Innocence of Children!” and “Cancel Drag Event for Children!” They will return at 3 p.m. on Friday.
Meanwhile, Rockton Pride has kept away from the library protests. Instead, they are planning a Kickoff Party from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Village Green Park Pavillion, including five drag queens. They tell supporters, "Please avoid parking by the library or the main street by the businesses, so we can ensure our supporters do not get caught up in the protest down there…. We DO NOT intend to go near the library or interact with counter-protestors at all, UNLESS they make their way to us at the park. Safety is our #1 priority!- Absolutely NO weapons or alcohol allowed. NO pets…. Eco-friendly party. NO plastic water bottles."
The Rockford Family Initiative confirmed on Facebook, "This will be a spiritual battle not a physical battle - neither side will even see each other because these events will take place at two different locations."
At the June 26 board meeting, both the president and vice-president of the board both voted to cancel the drag Q&A event. The other four board members voted to continue having it.
Board president Gary Kovanda observed the library was not requiring parental permission slips for the event, even though the library said, “Parents have authority over their teens and can choose whether or not to attend.” The registration form for the virtual event asks for name, address, library card, age, but doesn’t verify parental permission either.
Library board member Bob Geddeis said that "moving forward would be a direct violation of the bylaws."
Geddeis quoted from a section of the Talcott Library General Policies [PDF] titled Intellectual Freedom, which says, “The responsibility of the Talcott Free Library is to serve all the community, not to promote or censor political, moral, philosophical or religious opinions.” He said that the drag event would be promoting certain moral opinions.
“The responsibility of the Talcott Free Library is to serve all the community,” says the library’s General Policies, so the library may be more eager to make LGBTQ+ teens feel valued than to explain to other patrons why they’re doing it. Sometimes serving all the community means providing books and programming for patrons who may not agree with each other. New arrivals in the library include The Courage to Be Free by Ron DeSantis – and on the other side, the January 6 Report.
The library’s teen collection includes titles such as This Book is Gay by British author and former health teacher Juno Dawson. Dawson, who came out as a transgender woman after the book was published, told the Rolling Stone, “I definitely don’t think it’s pornographic. I would challenge anyone to be titillated or aroused by what is essentially a textbook. What I would say, however, is that it’s thorough.”
Dawson argues that since young people are taught about “sexual intercourse, contraception, and sexually transmitted infections,” LGBTQ+ teens should be taught about sexual relationships too. Chapter 9: The Ins and Outs of Gay Sex describes the physical workings of gay sex, including safe sex and how to use sex toys.
Dawson says young people today experience more sexual influences. “In my childhood, I wasn’t seeing hardcore pornography,” though some of the books that influenced her the most “were not necessarily books that I should have been reading when I was a teenager.”
Dawson says, “We’re all very clear This Book is Gay is not for children. This is a book kept in the young adult section, like a lot of the books that are on those banned book lists….” and adds, “I’m not just talking about how to have sexual intercourse, but also the well-being and the relationship and the nurturing side of it as well.”
Talcott Library’s General Policies say, “It is recognized that a district resident may find an item personally objectionable. Residents of the community should be encouraged to bring their concerns regarding any specific title or item in the library’s collection to the attention of the Library Director in either an informal discussion or through a formal complaint.”
Each side has managed to demonize the other, often by accusing them of saying things they didn't actually say. We asked Kevin Rilott, director of the Rockford Family Initiative, to tell us if he's as extreme as he seems.
Surprisingly, Rilott says he sees some of the strides made by "the homosexual movement" as "good things." He mentions specifically "overcoming prejudice, bigotry, and hate" and the "acceptance of people with same-sex attraction." Some of his own relatives are part of the LGBTQ+ community.
But Rilott continues, "We also see things that we believe harm the image of God in people and objectively speaking can be considered sinful. Things like pride parades in large cities where nudity and very strange behavior is accepted and considered normal. Things like gender surgery for children and the promotion of homosexuality in schools."
However, Rilott says, "Every person with same-sex attraction is a child of God, loved by God, and our sister or brother."
"Suicide rates for LGBTQ youth and all youth are tragic," says Rilott. "What all people need is friendship, love, and meaning in life. No person should be reduced to their passions and desires but should be treated as a person created in the image of God and a loved and valued member of our God given human family."
Megan Gove, head librarian at the Talcott Free Library, told us that the library's Teen Advisory Board members were the ones who had originally requested the Drag Q&A. The youth librarian passed along their request.
Opponents criticized the library staff for allowing the event, with some of them questioning how many of the teens really supported it. But Gove says, “I will not answer questions about the teen advisory board.”
Krystal Ball, the drag performer who is the subject of the Q&A session, was recommended to Talcott Library by a Rockford University professor, who said, "Krystal has provided inspiring talks about coming out and being yourself each time [at RU]. She has also spoken to several high school GSA groups at an RU event in fall 2022 that was a Q&A about drag and about her own life as an artist/entertainer. She even gave a make-up tutorial for eye shadow. I know she has also had conversations and performances: everything from church organizations to performing at people’s weddings."
Krystal Ball told WREX, "We are not here to hurt people, we're not here to make anyone feel left out, we want everyone to feel included."
"Krystal Ball is a character...this is my job. I go to work, I don't look like this. But when I come to The Office, I'm at work, but I'm in makeup. So being a drag queen has definitely helped me to become confident not only as myself, but even when I'm out of makeup."
Asked if other groups and perspectives would have the same right to be represented, Gove told us, “We take suggestions about library programming from residents in the district via our suggestion box in person or through our contact page. All of our meeting rooms are available to the public to reserve for use. The study rooms can be booked online and the Keefer program room has to be requested either via email or telephone. Any group can use the rooms at no cost as long as it is not in use by the library.”
Both supporters and opponents of the event continued to ask questions about it and the board meeting that confirmed it. Without clear guidance on who would be allowed into the Rockton Community Center on June 26 (capacity was 99), people from each side have charged that the process was unfair.
According to Jenny Maragia, who was one of the first opponents of the event to arrive, opponents began waiting at the front door at 5 p.m. Supporters of the event held a Pride March and arrived closer to 6:30 p.m. Maragia’s impression was that “Before the doors opened, they tried to rush the line and push us out of line. I think the people who had waited an hour and a half weren’t having that.”
Conversely, supporters wanted to come to the meeting too and felt the opponents were simply keeping them out. Eventually a library board member began letting supporters enter the building through a side door. Of those who got into the meeting, opponents outnumbered supporters about two to one. Speakers were equally balanced between the two sides, however.
Maragia says opponents did allow one young woman to push to the front of the line because she had a terrified baby strapped to her chest. “They were yelling at her, asking her why she’d bring a baby and she was yelling back saying she didn’t have child care. She was on the verge of tears. When the doors opened I saw two ladies from our side help her to her seat with all of them.”
Asked about the June 26 board meeting, Hollinger told Rockton-Roscoe News that, “as requested by the library board, our officers were asked to monitor the meeting from the outside as the board and staff would direct individuals into the board room. Many of our staff were occupied with providing safety and traffic control on the nearby streets for the march from Village Green Park to the board meeting. After heated exchanges outside the building occurred, the police did begin to separate individuals on occasion and monitored the doors as requested by the library board. The police were not responsible for deciding who or who was not admitted into the building and/or board room. We were asked to close the doors so that the meeting could take place once the capacity was reached.”
Many opponents of drag events at libraries say they give opportunities for child molesters to “groom” children. According to the Illinois Criminal Code, grooming means “to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, or attempt to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, a child, a child's guardian, or another person believed by the person to be a child or a child's guardian, to commit any sex offense…” But taken literally, that would require ongoing contact between the performer and audience members whom he is unlikely to ever see again.
Some opponents of the drag event may be using the word "groom" in a cultural rather than legal sense. That's what Kevin Rilott says: "I do not use the word groomer in a criminal sense. I use it as grooming children to be open to the sexual revolution. Homosexual or heterosexual, it just seems to me exposing children and teens to sexual ideas harms their souls. When I use the word groomer,I am trying to portray a person who is trying to get someone to believe something that is not good for them."
But many sincerely believe that drag performers are more likely to be pedophiles than other people are (there is no statistical evidence for that myth). Most supporters of drag are outraged that someone would even ask them if they support something so universally condemned as pedophilia. They won't dignify that with an answer.
One of the early arrivals at the board meeting, Tara Neilsen, Illinois State Liaison for Moms for America, put it slightly differently, saying "desensitize" instead of "groom" when she told us, “I believe that while adults can continue having drag shows for adults, the 'family-friendly' drag shows are a made up title of an event to encourage parents to bring children to desensitize them.”
Though a resident of Woodstock, IL, Nielsen made it into the audience for the board meeting, though, like others, she was not allowed to give her prepared speech. (The board ended public comment after an hour.) Neilsen’s critics wondered why she was allowed into the building at all when many Rockton residents (and all the media) were not. Neilsen told us, “I signed the speaker list, and when I did - they let me in. I don't know why or how.”
She also asserts that only 96 people had entered the 99-capacity building before the doors were shut, so three more should have been admitted. She also asserts that, if the library gets Illinois tax money, she should have been allowed to speak under the Open Meetings Act. However, local government bodies are allowed to set certain limits for meetings - they just have to be fair limits.
Neilsen has been criticized for smiling for a photo as a speaker was saying, “1.8 million LGBTQ youth seriously consider attempting suicide every year.” Neilsen claims she was merely "smiling for the camera... It had nothing to do with what was being spoken.” Others in the room said that Neilsen was making private comments during the speeches and should have been paying better attention.
One of the main objections to the drag event was that taxpayers would be paying the performer’s $150 fee. So Rockton Pride supporters organized a GoFundMe campaign to cover it. Supporters say, “We surpassed our original goal of $150 within 24 hours.” The campaign eventually raised $1,555. The group gave $1,000 to the library “in hopes that it will be used to facilitate additional inclusive and welcoming events for the Talcott district.” The remaining money was allocated for the Rockton Pride Kickoff Party at Village Green Park in Rockton. The group also created an Amazon Wish List for the party. They plan a "family-friendly" mini drag show with five well-known drag queens, including Krystal Ball.
More News from Rockton
- Strong spirits: what really scares you? What terrifies me is the thought that in the storms of my life, I will foolishly think that I can take care of things myself.
- Roscoe antique sale to benefit restoration of first settler's homestead Roscoe Township Historical Society's antique sale is Sept. 23-24, 2023 at the Community Center.