HUNTINGTON WOODS — Over 150 residents and supporters packed the gymnasium of the Gillham Recreation Center for Tuesday night’s Huntington Woods City Commission meeting after news broke over a California-based organization’s intent to protest the Drag Queen Story Time program at the library.
News of the upcoming protest was accompanied by the release of emails from Huntington Woods City Commissioner Allison Iversen to an individual connected to the group encouraging them to, “Please do get more people involved. I am one voice and we need many people to call this out for what it is.” She had also written to the library’s Youth Services Director asking that the program is reconsidered or changed to an adult event. Iversen, who had been planning to resign at the end of the year to move to Lake Orion, resigned early over the controversy and did not attend Tuesday’s commission meeting.
Instead of facing her constituents, she posted about her resignation on the neighborhood forum Next Door.
“As for my apology to our residents for responding to someone I believed was a resident, and that person forwarding my message to an outside group – I am very sorry! I would never intentionally invite an outside group to protest in our neighborhood. I am not a member or an affiliate of this group,” she wrote.
While Iversen did not show up, so many others did that the meeting had to be moved from City Hall to the Recreation Center. Of those who did attend the meeting, all but a handful were there to support the LGBTQ community, including those with transgender identities.
Among those who spoke was a student at Berkley High School who came out as transgender at the age of 13.
“Had there been something like this when I was younger I might have been able to be myself sooner,” he said.
Julisa Abad of Fair Michigan echoed the student’s sentiment. Abad said she works with victims of hate crimes to help them find justice, particularly in crimes against trans women and women of color.
“I wish this was around when I was growing up, that I could have seen people like me,” she said.
Huntington Woods resident Veronica Nabus was one of only a few that spoke against the story time, stating, “I see no reason for this program other than to advance the cause of the adults.”
Another speaker, who refused to give their name or city, had to be removed by police for interrupting other speakers. He said the program is harmful to children.
Youth Services Director Joyce Krom spoke to Oakland County Times before the meeting.
“There has been overwhelming support of what we’re doing. This is why we live in Huntington Woods,” she said.
In addition to the DQST, the library offers many other programs that bring the community together, including an adult art series, clubs for Magic, Harry Potter and Dungeons and Dragons, as well as hosting a knitting club and a running club.
“We are here to serve everyone,” she said.
Miss Raven Divine Cassadine, who grew up in Huntington Woods, was one of the inaugural readers when the program began just over a year ago.
“I love seeing their little faces light up,” she said of the children who attend. “Kids are so carefree and happy. They don’t see hate the way some adults do.”
When asked why she does the DQST, she said it’s because it helps kids keep an interest in reading, and because “when God gives you a gift you should share it.”
In addition to those who spoke at the meeting, the City of Pleasant Ridge Commission and State Representative Robert Wittenberg sent statements of support to be read into the record.
“The comments implying our community is weakened by the sharing of diverse perspectives flies in the face of the values of inclusion and diversity that make Huntington Woods strong,” Wittenberg wrote. “Our LGBTQ neighbors and everyone living in Huntington Woods are family – regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, or religion – and that’s why this is such a vibrant community. I support the Huntington Woods Library in continuing with Drag Queen Story Time, and I hope it continues to teach our children about the beauty of diversity and inclusion.”
Pleasant Ridge contracts with the Huntington Woods Library for residents to use their services.
“We urge the Huntington Woods City Commission to continue the program because we believe each family has the right to choose. Those in opposition should not be allowed to eliminate the opportunity for those who enjoy this program from being able to continue to do so. Those opposed can simply not attend,” read the statement from Pleasant Ridge officials.
According to emails released to the media, members of the group Mass Resistance are planning to protest the next story time, which is scheduled for Jan. 26.
The Huntington Woods City Commission made clear that apart from their recently departed colleague, they are in support of the program. And Krom says the reading will go on.
The Library employee who leaked the emails to the press has subsequently been suspended from their position pending a review of the incident, but said, “Oh yeah, it was worth it.”
A GoFundMe campaign has sprung up to support DQST. Find out more about it here.