Director of Transgender Advocacy for Fair Michigan Julisa Abad voices her support for Drag Queen Story Time during the Dec. 18 Huntington Woods City Commission meeting. Many others wait in line to speak on the program, with public comment going for well over an hour.

Director of Transgender Advocacy for Fair Michigan Julisa Abad voices her support for Drag Queen Story Time during the Dec. 18 Huntington Woods City Commission meeting. Many others wait in line to speak on the program, with public comment going for well over an hour.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Supporters, city reject effort to shut down Drag Queen Story Time in Huntington Woods

Commissioner resigns following her opposition to program

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published December 20, 2018

 Commissioner Allison Iversen, who voiced opposition to Drag Queen Story Time, resigned from the Huntington Woods City Commission before its latest meeting, so her chair  sits empty. The program received the majority of support  of attendees at the meeting.

Commissioner Allison Iversen, who voiced opposition to Drag Queen Story Time, resigned from the Huntington Woods City Commission before its latest meeting, so her chair sits empty. The program received the majority of support of attendees at the meeting.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Terry Trombley, of Stockbridge, speaks against Drag Queen Story Time at the commission meeting. Audience members started chanting “no place for hate” after his comments.

Terry Trombley, of Stockbridge, speaks against Drag Queen Story Time at the commission meeting. Audience members started chanting “no place for hate” after his comments.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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HUNTINGTON WOODS — A Huntington Woods Public Library program gained much attention this past week after local and out-of-state critics wanted to end it.

Drag Queen Story Time, in which drag queens read stories to children, has been running at the library for a year. According to an event posting from the library, the program “captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models. 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.”

This program didn’t sit well with an out-of-state organization which describes itself as doing “pro-family activism,” and to which City Commissioner Joe Rozell referred to as “an outside hate group.” The group mentioned protesting Drag Queen Story Time events. Though there was no protest of the December Drag Queen Story Time, library Youth Services Director Joyce Krom said she heard that the group plans to protest the Jan. 26 event, and the group said it planned to do so.

In addition to the out-of-state group, it came to the public’s attention that City Commissioner Allison Iversen also had raised objections to how the library was running Drag Queen Story Time.

Krom, who brought in the program, said Iversen contacted her when she first heard about Drag Queen Story Time. Iversen requested in her initial email to Krom on Nov. 17, 2017, that the program be “reconsidered or changed to an adult event.”

“We met and discussed it and agreed to disagree,” Krom said. “After receiving overwhelming support from the remainder of the residents of the community, the library board and the City Commission and the mayor and the city manager all felt very strongly that the program should continue. And we have continued with the program.”

Krom said the out-of-state group began contacting the library the week of Dec. 10, which was the week of that month’s Drag Queen Story Time, about stopping the event.

“We think that maybe they Googled Drag Queen Story Time and we came up,” she said. “We can’t think of any other reason they would target us. And, unfortunately, Iversen chose to engage with them and that kind of lit the fuse on the whole situation.”

Iversen, who was planning on resigning from the City Commission Dec. 28 because she was moving out of Huntington Woods, decided to resign before the Dec. 18 commission meeting, where the program was discussed.

In an online posting on Nextdoor.com that day, Iversen wrote that over the course of the year, many residents had contacted her with concerns about the library’s program, specifically the age of the children in attendance.

“Sharing their concern, I have encouraged EVERY one of them to speak up, connect with other residents, and address those concerns with the library and/or the commission,” she stated. “I suspect they were afraid they would be subjected to name-calling and character assassination, and after what I have seen in the last 24 hours - who would honestly want to do that?”

Iversen also said she believed someone she was responding to was a resident, and that person forwarded her message to an “outside group.”

“I am very sorry! I would never intentionally invite an outside group to protest in our neighborhood,” she said. “I am not a member or an affiliate of this group. Those of you who know me and know my heart ... thank you from the bottom of my heart for the outpouring of love and support yesterday and today.”

Iversen could not be reached for further comment by press time.

The Dec. 18 commission meeting was so heavily attended that it necessitated a venue change from City Hall to the Community Center. Before residents spoke during public comment, the commission accepted the resignation of Iversen.

The majority of the room was filled with supporters of Drag Queen Story Time, though there also were critics who spoke out against the program.

One of the supporters was Raven Divine, who grew up in Huntington Woods and now returns each month to read to children as part of Drag Queen Story Time.

Divine told the Woodward Talk she was “disgusted” by the opposition to the program.

“It’s like, come on, get over it. We all bleed the same. We all breathe the same air, and everybody’s not cookie-cutter,” she said. “We’re a diverse place.”

“I was overwhelmed with joy to know so many people believed in me and the program and our cause,” she said of all the supporters at the meeting.

When Divine got involved with the program, she had no idea it was in Huntington Woods, but when she realized it was, she was ecstatic she could give back to the community where she grew up.

“I remember growing up, I didn’t see anybody like myself,” she said. “I felt like I was alone. There’s plenty of kids out there that already know, even at a very young age, that they’re gay or they’re bi, they just know that they’re different, and to have someone that’s a great role model stand up so they can see and let them know it’s OK to be different, it’s OK to be yourself, take pride in being yourself, children need that.”

Terry Trombley, of Stockbridge, spoke against the program at the meeting, saying he was concerned for children who would "become victims of this sexual ideologies of adults."

City commissioners voiced their support for the program at the meeting, with Rozell stating the day after the meeting that he’s proud of the city and its residents to show support for Drag Queen Story Time and standing against “an outside hate group coming into our city and trying to tell us what to do with our library and its programming.”

Rozell also said that while everyone’s entitled to their opinion, he was disappointed by Iversen’s actions.

“Everyone recognizes that this is an optional program,” he said. “If you like it, you go, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to attend. This is a very popular program — so popular, we’ve even had to move it to a larger venue to accommodate the number of young folks and their parents that want to attend it. And so the folks that I’ve talked to that have attended this event have said that they like it because it’s about showing children about diversity, inclusion, teaching them that there’s all different types of people in this world, that the world is a big place made up of all different types of people … the world is a better place when we all recognize that. And so that’s the message that the folks that are taking their children to this event are hoping that the children are learning.

“The notion that there’s some hidden agenda or that there’s some perverse outcome that is being achieved here is completely ridiculous.”

With Iversen’s resignation being accepted at the Dec. 18 meeting, the City Commission now has 30 days to appoint a replacement. Residents can apply for the position by filling out a citizen interest form for city commissioner, which can be found at City Hall, 26815 Scotia Road, or online at www.hwmi.org. Forms must be turned in to the city clerk no later than noon Jan. 11. They either can be dropped off or mailed, or emailed to jsolanskey@hwmi.org.

After the deadline, Rozell said, applicants will be contacted to be interviewed by the commission. He hopes to find a new commissioner before the Jan. 22 meeting.

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