Amid Public Health Crisis, MN Legislature Focuses Instead on Drag Queen Story Hour

In a story that’s played out in Missouri and Tennessee, Minnesota’s state legislation is taking aim at Drag Queen Story Hour at public libraries. Introduced late last week, new language in Minnesota Statutes 2018, Sections 134.34 explicitly undermines public library autonomy.

New language in the statutes read as follows:

Subd. 8. Drag queen story hour.

(a) “Drag queen story hour” or “drag queen story time” means a children’s event in which a drag queen reads stories or books to children or engages in other learning or educational activities with children in a library setting.

(b) For calendar year 2021 and later, a public library that hosts a drag queen story hour event shall have regional library system support aid from the Department of Education reduced by 100 percent. A public library in a regional public library system that hosts a drag queen story hour event is ineligible for regional library basic system support aid from the Department of Education and the regional library basic system support aid must be reapportioned equally among the other public libraries in the participating regional public library system.

Category ID: 45597
Category ID: 470
Category ID: 35362
Category ID: 48926

Unlike the bills in Missouri and Tennessee, this language is crystal clear that choices about public library programming will not be left to libraries, nor even the communities those libraries serve. Instead, Minnesota will unilaterally disallow public libraries from hosting Drag Queen Story Hour events if they wish to receive funding from the Department of Education.

“So, while the stock market is crashing, colleges are shutting down & the country is bracing for a massive coronavirus outbreak, five Republicans in the Minnesota House of Representatives did *the most* ‘Minnesota Republican’ thing possible; they introduced a bill that would DEFUND EVERY SINGLE PUBLIC LIBRARY that hosts drag queen story hours,” said Diana Neidecker in a public Facebook post that brought attention to the bill to hundreds of librarians. “[T]hese ghouls want to strip funding for free, public spaces because they offer story times celebrating diversity.”

The updated language in the statutes was proposed by Glenn H. Gruenhagen (R), Sondra Erickson (R), Eric Lucero (R), John Poston (R), and Sandy Layman (R). All five representatives come from the state’s Republican party, making it a partisan bill, with no input or development from Democratic House members.

Since the proposal, the bill has been forwarded to the Education Finance Committee.

Drag Queen Story Hour events have been extremely popular at public libraries throughout the country. They’ve seen their share of protests and counter protests, but they’ve been an opportunity to showcase creativity and fun to young readers. Likewise, they’ve invited diversity and inclusivity into a public sphere, welcoming discussions and explorations of what gender does and does not mean. Such events have brought Republican lawmakers to propose bills to choke these events by threatening to withhold funding to public libraries for offering Drag Queen Story Hour to their communities. Minnesota is the third such bill, and it likely won’t be the last.

What You Can Do

  • Contact each of the House Representatives who proposed this change in language: ep.sondra.erickson@house.mn, rep.eric.lucero@house.mn, rep.glenn.gruenhagen@house.mn, rep.john.poston@house.mn, rep.sandy.layman@house.mn.
  • Reach out to the Education Finance Committee of the Minnesota House of Representatives.
  • Minnesota residents are urged to contact their local press about this bill and explain why it would tear apart the right to access to information. Work with local government journalists and emphasize the work public libraries do in protecting that freedom. This is a First Amendment violation.
  • Whether you’re in Minnesota or not, reach out to organizations that work on behalf of libraries and library legislation and encourage them to speak up and out about this bill, as well as the potential for similar bills to appear in other states. This isn’t the first and won’t be the last, as evidenced by Missouri and Tennessee’s similar bills. Because this is an issue tied to funding of libraries, EveryLibrary would be a great organization to contact, as would be the American Library Association. It’s likely, too, that the National Coalition Against Censorship might be interested in this bill and its implications for freedom of information.
  • Reach out to PEN America and to the American Civil Liberties Union.

As of this writing, there’s been very little uproar about this bill or the implications of it. Start writing and shouting. There’s no coincidence that in the midst of a global pandemic that House Republications are hopeful this flies under the public’s radar. But we can’t let it.

Here’s what happened in the wake of Missouri’s bill. Rise up and ensure that similar actions are taken in Minnesota, as well as in the inevitable wave of additional states attempting to push such legislation through and outside of the public’s watchful eye.

Your effort, as explained by EveryLibrary, is not wasted.