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Death Threats and a Sex Offender: Houston's Drag Story Hour Collapses

Trent Lira and Devin Will
Story hour organizers Trent Lira and Devin Will

The children's event attracted protests and intimidation, which escalated after a former participant's criminal record was revealed.

The organizers of Houston's Drag Queen Story Time are voluntarily ending the program amid protests, death threats, and the revelation of a former participant's criminal record.

The monthly event, which has been going on in the city's libraries since September 2017, has been the subject of numerous protests -- one protester even brought a gun to a story hour -- and a lawsuit. The lawsuit was dismissed in January, but while it was pending, the organizers consulted with the Houston Public Library's legal department, and it was decided the library would conduct background checks on all readers, which was already library policy but hadn't been enforced. It turned out that a former reader was a convicted sex offender, and Houston media picked up the story.

"She was part of story time before HPL started enforcing background checks for every performer, and hasn't been back since they started," organizers Trent Lira and Devin Will wrote in a piece published Tuesday on Houstonia magazine's website. "When Trent spoke to the queen in question this weekend, she confirmed that she had been convicted in 2009. It was devastating. We had insisted and insisted that what we were doing was safe for children, and yet here was a performer who had been charged with sexual assault of a minor. We didn't know about the conviction prior to last week, but it would have come up if a background check had been conducted."

"Everyone who has performed since October -- including ourselves -- has undergone a background check and has clean records," they continued. "It is frustrating that the past conviction of a single performer now undermines the efforts of three dozen other drag kings and queens who have delighted parents and children alike with songs, costumes, and most importantly, stories."

One queen, a popular Houston performer named Blackberri, was misidentified by Breitbart News as the offender, Lira and Will noted. "She has become the canvas onto which these right-wing pundits project their hatred and fear: an African American with a beard and a full face of makeup," they wrote. She has no criminal record and "is one of the most prolific drag performers in the city," but she has received "death threats and national scorn," they said.

Because of all this, the writers said, they have decided to cancel the story hour for this month and "the foreseeable future." "People are being threatened," they explained. "People are being hurt. We believe in what we're doing, but we don't believe in putting our friends, our families, or our children in danger." If anyone else wants to hold a similar event, they added, they are welcome to.

"We want to serve the LGBT+ community, and we will," they concluded. "We will just have to do it another way."

Watch a video on the controversy, courtesy of Houston's CBS affiliate.

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