A drag queen story hour at a library on a U.S. Air Force base in Germany has been canceled after backlash from conservative politicians, primarily from Marco Rubio, who claimed it exposed children to "sexually charged content."
The library at Ramstein Air Base had scheduled Drag Queen Story Time for Thursday to kick off Pride Month, Military.com reports. Drag performer Stacey Teed was set to do the reading. But the event is now off.
Rubio, a Republican U.S. senator from Florida, said it was canceled after he wrote a letter last week to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall saying it was a "gross abuse of taxpayer funding to place children in a sexualized environment."
"It is completely insane for Ramstein AFB to use on-installation resources for rituals like 'Drag Queen Story Time,'" Rubio wrote. "These inappropriate events are extremely divisive at home for good reason; in all cases, they place young children in close proximity with adults who are intentionally and explicitly sexualized."
Rubio also said service members and families stationed outside the U.S. often have no alternatives to on-base libraries if they disagree with library policies -- although, of course, no family would be required to attend the story hour.
He objected to a book featured at a reading last year, The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish; its author had expressed a hope that it would encourage children "to get a little practice shaking their hips or shimmying their shoulders."
"As I hope you can agree, decisions over children and their bodies should be left to moms and dads serving our nation, not mediated through publicly funded propaganda on U.S. Air Force bases," Rubio wrote. "The last thing parents serving their nation overseas should be worried about, particularly in a theater with heightened geopolitical tensions, is whether their children are being exposed to sexually charged content simply because they visited their local library."
Rubio, who sought the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, has been a U.S. senator since 2011. His record on LGBTQ+ issues is poor and getting poorer -- he had a score of 47 on the Human Rights Campaign's Congressional Scorecard in the first session of Congress he served in, down to 0 in the most recent full session.
In announcing the cancellation, Rubio appeared to take credit for it, and Teed told military publication Stars and Stripes the event was canceled after "an outpouring of complaints." But military officials have been giving various explanations, saying the story hour was announced before it was approved and that they wanted to do a more inclusive event for Pride Month.
"Rather than viewing the reading as acceptable or not, base leaders decided it would be better to broaden it to reflect and include the larger LGBTQ+ community, in an attempt to make it more inclusive, rather than focus exclusively on one aspect of it," Lt. Col. Will Powell, a spokesman for the 86th Airlift Wing, said in a Wednesday statement to Stars and Stripes.
"This decision was not based on individuals speaking out against the event or LGBTQ+ community," wing officials added. There wasn't time to rework Thursday's event, but they are working on other observances for Pride Month, they said. However, there was "a string of hateful comments" on the social media page for the story time, now deleted, according to Military.com. A Change.org petition has been posted by people who hope to have the story hour reinstated.
Teed said drag queen story hours merely expose children to differences in ways that are age-appropriate. "Children are not inherently hateful. Hate and prejudice is a learned concept," she told Stars and Stripes. "It's OK to be different. It just creates less negativity in the world. But I understand a lot of people may not understand it." At the event last year, which was off-base, "the kids had a lot of questions, and by the end we were all on the same page," she added.