By Alex Malm
DERRY – Last week a drag story time reading was supposed to take place at the Taylor Library, but after members of the public voiced their concern, it was decided by library officials to instead find a new venue for the story time.
That led to the event changing venues and taking place at the Tupelo Music Hall instead. The story time was hosted by Michael McMahon, as ‘Clara Divine.’
During the June 15 Derry Town Council meeting, people on both sides of the issue expressed their concerns.
“Theres alot of people here who want to speak tonight and we want to hear from everybody. We don’t want to silence any voices, we want to hear all the voices,” said Derry Town Council Chairman James Morgan.
Morgan earlier this month asked members of the council to recognize Pride Month in Derry by having the Pride Flag displayed in Town Hall.
He said he was going to put the gavel away from him in order to allow people of the public to speak freely without being interrupted.
“I’m going to trust that each and everyone of you no matter what side of the issue you happen to have the respect and admiration towards this community and towards your fellow neighbors whether you agree or disagree,” he said.
One of the members of the public who spoke was resident Greg Cunningham.
“I want to thank the Town Council for displaying the Pride Flag in the municipal center this month, it means alot to me,” he said.
Cunningham said that his son Andrew, a graduate of Pinkerton Academy recently graduated from college but won’t return to Derry.
“Andrew is a member of the LGBTQ community and will not move back to Derry. He has very good friends here but he doesn’t consider Derry a welcoming community,” he said.
Also speaking during the meeting was State Rep. Katherine Prudhomme O’Brien.
Morgan asked if she was speaking in her official capacity as a state representative. She began speaking with her state representative badge on.
“I came from the State House,” she said.
Morgan then asked her “so are you here in your official capacity?”
She then took off her name badge and said “I am here as a citizen of the town.”
“If you don’t want negative press on this town then the town meetings and the board meetings should be run correctly. They should be run the way they are supposed to be run by law,” she said during the meeting.
O’Brien said that she was a trustee of the library for six years and said that they talked about things like windows, stained glass, and carpet. She said that if they talked about those topics then they should also talk about controversial issues like the proposed drag story time.
“If that’s the kind’ve stuff for people to talk about when their library trustees then certainly a controversial issue is important enough to talk about,” she said, saying that it wasn’t talked about with the trustees.
She said that she asked questions about the story time.
“I suppose they were good questions and they were correct,” saying that when she got to the Taylor Library later that day the library director had already made a decision to cancel the event.
She said that the library director made the decision to have a drag story hour completely on her own and also made the decision to cancel it on her own.
Mark Connors said that he was glad to see a strong turnout for both sides of the issues.
He then responded to the claims made by O’Brien saying that she spoke to the library director with a member of the library board of trustees in private and not during a public meeting, which is against public meetings rules.
Connors also explained that she submitted a letter to the board of trustees but said she would speak about it at the next meeting in a non-public session which he said is also against the rules.
“There should be no non-public meetings with O’Brien,” he said.
After he was done speaking O’Brien got up to respond but was told she wasn’t allowed to.
State Rep. Erica Layon also spoke during the meeting as a citizen of the community.
“I am here primarily because of the harassment that has happened to people of this town from council members. The treatment of some residents of this town is far below the status of the people sitting here in this room,” she said.
“These attacks are unwarranted, unkind, and really deserve an apology to these people,” she added.
She said that instead of having controversial programming they should have a reading club for those questioning their sexuality, allies, and those who want to learn more about it.
“That would serve their needs much better,” she said, saying that they should have a space in the library.
After public comment was over Morgan explained that the only purview that the town council has over the library is the budget and the elected members of the board of trustees.
“We don’t pick and choose who goes to our libraries, we don’t pick and choose who speaks at the libraries, we don’t pick and choose who does story times,” he said.
Morgan said that he is glad to hear from the public.
“I do appreciate the input, good and bad,” he said.