In a since-deleted post, the Basilica of the Assumption, America’s first Catholic cathedral, called a Drag Queen Storytime event scheduled for tonight at the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s central branch “evil,” saying people “do not need to expose kids to such things.”
The event features two drag performers, Bambi Galore and Evon Dior Michelle, reading stories to children at the branch, which is located directly across Cathedral Street from the basilica.
The post, purportedly written by Father James Boric, rector of the church, urged people to research “the ‘acclaimed’ storytellers” and instead come to a service Thursday night to “pray for the conversion of all involved.”
It has since been deleted. Father Boric did not immediately return a call seeking comment and confirmation he wrote the post.
Comments on the post mostly skewed negative, with many saying Jesus Christ would not support casting judgment on people, including those who choose to dress in drag.
Reached by phone, Bambi Galore said they were disappointed a religious organization would criticize a group of “people wanting to read stories to children in an inclusive environment.”
“The whole purpose is we read stories that say everyone deserves to be loved, and everyone is special in their own unique way,” said Galore, who is the coordinator of the local chapter of Drag Queen Story Hour. They added that all the books are age-appropriate.
Without naming the Basilica, the Pratt responded on social media by saying, “In 1882, Enoch Pratt opened this library saying my library ‘shall be for all.’ That is the mission we live by today and everyday. Everyone is welcome here.”
Meghan McCorkell, director of marketing and communications for Pratt, said the library system was surprised by the post from the Basilica of the Assumption but undeterred to hold the reading, which is hosted in a partnership with the Baltimore City LGBTQ Affairs within the mayor’s office.
“We provide programs for all, and that includes programs for the LGBTQ community and allies of the LGBTQ community,” she said. “And we will continue to provide programs for anyone and everyone who comes through our doors.”
In a statement, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said Baltimore’s diversity is one of the city’s greatest assets.
“It is our responsibility to show that we embrace children, families and residents of all identities,” he said. “What would be evil is depriving our city of the opportunity to confront and celebrate our differences. We are lucky to have a talented community of drag performers who are giving back to our young people, boosting their confidence and sharing the love of reading. I’m proud that the Drag Queen Story Hour has made it to Baltimore.”
McCorkell said the library has a good relationship with its neighbors at the Basilica of the Assumption and the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which oversees all Catholic churches in the city and Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, Garrett, Harford, Howard and Washington counties.
Last September, the basilica agreed not to book a wedding on the day the library system held a street festival to celebrate the central branch’s reopening after extensive renovations, and the Pratt made sure the street was clear in time for evening mass, she said.
And members of the Pratt’s leadership team have met with Boric and Archbishop William E. Lori in the past. Catholic Charities, the church’s network of community nonprofits, held a meeting at the central branch a few weeks ago, McCorkell noted.
“When I say it’s open for all, it really is open for all,” she said.
In response to questions from Baltimore Fishbowl, a spokesperson for the archdiocese only noted the post has been taken down.
Story events with drag queens have become popular all across the country. The nonprofit parent organization for Drag Queen Story Hour lists on its website more than 40 independently operated chapters, covering most major cities in the U.S.
The event, according to Drag Queen Story Hour’s page, “captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models.”
It goes on to say: “In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where people can present as they wish, where dress up is real.”
Galore said it is important for young people who are LGBTQ to find a place they are included. “At the same time, we want all children to feel included,” they said.
But as The New York Times reported in a June 2019 story, the events have been met with backlash in various places, from urban cities to rural areas. Ohio’s Speaker of the House Larry Householder condemned the readings, arguing “they should not be a resource for teenage boys to learn how to dress in drag.”
Two libraries in the state cancelled readings in response.
Jonathan Hamilt, who co-founded Drag Queen Story Hour, told the Times the backlash has grown as the events have become more popular.
“But the love and support for Drag Queen Story Hour has trumped the hate, even though both have grown,” he said.
This story has been updated.