More Protesters Than Kids Show Up to Drag Story Hour

Parents leaving the library were faced with protesters from both sides. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

By Iryna Shkurhan |

Outside of the Long Island City branch of the Queens Public Library, two antagonistic groups gathered during a drag story hour event on June 26 – one opposing the reading and the other standing in solidarity. 

Right-wing groups have taken issue with Drag Story Hours across the country in what has become a battle over gender and sex education in the name of safeguarding kids. In late February, a drag story hour at the Jackson Heights library drew a large turnout – with supporters greatly outnumbering protestors. 

The organizers of the “Defend Drag Story Hour” event called on supporters of the LGBTQIA+ community to bring signs, rainbow swag and noisemakers to the library on 21st street, an hour ahead of the reading scheduled for noon. The day before, organizers spread word of the defense and handed out fliers during the city’s annual Pride parade which drew over two million attendees despite rainy weather. 

“I feel like when there’s an opportunity to protect our civil rights, queer rights, or human rights it’s critical to show up, regardless of our affiliation,” said Lasara, who wanted to withhold her last name. 

Supporters brought noisemakers to drown out chants from the other side. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

She visited from California with her daughter for Pride festivities and heard about the defense at the parade. “I do identify as a queer person. So that’s part of my motivation,” she said. “But also, even if it weren’t my issue, I would still be out here because our basic rights are at risk.”

One retired couple, Mary and Dan Holzman-Tweed have lived in the LIC area for over two decades and arrived at the library clad in shirts expressing support for the scheduled Drag Story Reading organized for Pride Month. 

Holding a rainbow umbrella, with a shirt that read “Protect Trans Lives,” Dan said that reading held for children too young to attend school is “is a silly thing to have to defend.” Mary’s shirt read “Defend Your Local Library” with a black cat guarding an open book. 

“It’s been happening all over the country, it was only a matter of time before it happened here,” said Dan. “I don’t think the culture has been moving backwards in terms of LGBT rights, I think we’ve been moving steadily forward. We’re just resisting right now.”

Dan Holzman-Tweed has lived in LIC for over two decades and wanted to show solidarity with his local library. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

The 45 minute reading was scheduled to take place at noon, but just before 11 a.m. advocates for the event were waiting outside for the opposition group to arrive. The group, bearing signs claiming that the reading is inappropriate for children, arrived shortly after. 

Protestors stayed for more than two hours, and during that time only a few parents arrived with children in tow – in strollers or in their arms. It was not clear if they came for the scheduled event, or just to visit the library. No other events were scheduled for that day, according to their website. 

“There’s a group of us who try to show up whenever we can to support the storytellers and to support the families and to sort of shield them from the bigots,” said Jamie Bauer, 64, who traveled from the West Village. “There’s nothing sexual about it. And they’ve turned it into, you know, this horror story evil thing, when it’s really darling.”

Bauer traveled from the West Village to support the Drag Story Hour in LIC. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

Close to a dozen NYPD officers were at the site to set up barricades which corralled the two separate groups – both approximately equal in size with a dozen people on each side. 

“Where do you want the bigots to go,” shouted one supporter of the event as police were sectioning off two areas to keep protestors on either side of the library’s entrance. 

“Kids are smarter than we think,” said Chris Austin, an LIC resident who was walking by the gathering and said that both groups were appearing to “out noise” each other. 

While both groups brought speakers with them, the NYPD discouraged them from using them to not disrupt the library’s event. Instead, the supporting group sang children’s songs like the “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and the “ABCs” to drown out the opposition’s chants. The right-wing group held signs that said “this is not okay” above pictures of drag queens and “save the kids” among others. 

One opposition protester, with his face covered to disguise his identity, held a poster that read “Julie Lost G.o.d Won” and said that he believed the City Councilwoman Julie Won, who represents LIC, lost the election. Julie Won has previously expressed support for Drag Story Hours in her district. With chalk he wrote out, “RIP Drag Story Hour” along with “Not My Tax Dollars” on the sidewalk. 

One counter protester condemned Councilmember Julie Won for supporting the library’s event. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

“I want them to feel welcome, safe and happy,” said Mary on how she wants the parents bringing their children to the drag story reading to feel. “This is my library. You cannot come to my home and make people feel unsafe because of who they are and how they choose to express themselves.”

“If they choose to view someone in fancy dress, reading children’s books to small children through a sexual filter, that’s on them,” said Mary. 

New Brooklyn Heights Library opens

By Matthew Fischetti

The second largest library in Brooklyn opened its doors to the general public this past Wednesday.

The new Brooklyn Heights library, located at 286 Cadman Plaza West—the same as its former facility—now features over 26,000 square feet of space, floor-to-ceiling windows, a teen’s library, a children’s area, a sunlit reading room, and plenty of books to put your nose into.

“Now, as the second-largest library after the Brooklyn Public Library’s central branch, the opening of the Brooklyn Heights Library will serve as a cultural hub for all of Brooklyn and an invaluable local resource to thousands of nearby residents,” Councilwoman Crystal Hudson said. “We must continue to expand the resources available to our libraries and cultural institutions and make access to a quality library the norm, not the exception. Libraries are true indicators of the health and safety of our communities and a critical component to the social fabric of our City.”

In 2015, the City Council approved the plan to replace the previous library with a new building, made by private developer Hudson Companies Inc. The library sits at the base of the new 38-story building that houses 134 condominiums.

The original library was built in 1962 and had $9 million worth of unfunded needs prior to the renovation, according to the Brooklyn Public Library’s website. The Brooklyn Public Library also states that the original building was poorly designed to the point that more than 50 percent of its space was unavailable for public use.

The redevelopment project was largely funded by selling off the city-owned property for $52 million. Of the funding, $40 million was spent on repairs and improvements at branches across the system, while $12 million was allocated toward the interior of the Brooklyn Heights Library.

The developer also paid for the core and shell of the new library, a 9,000 square-foot STEAM lab to be operated by the NYC Department of Education, and rent for an interim library throughout the construction period. In addition, the development included 114 affordable apartments located at 909 Atlantic Avenue and 1043 Fulton Street.

“I’m so thrilled to celebrate the reopening of the new Brooklyn Heights Library! This was my childhood library and the stunning, state-of-the-art facility is going to be an essential community hub for the Brooklyn Heights community for generations to come,” Councilman Lincoln Restler said.

“Libraries are one of our greatest democratic institutions, and so I’m thrilled to celebrate the opening of the new Brooklyn Heights Library. This 21st century library will be a welcome asset and inspiration to the community for generations to come,” Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon said. “Here, children, teens, and adults can explore free programs, build community, read and learn. The Brooklyn Public Library has long been a critical cultural and educational anchor for the borough’s residents.”

The new branch will feature bas-reliefs, a kind of carving where the illustration is raised from the base, by Clemente Spampino – whose artwork originally adorned the exterior of the 1962 building. Starting this summer, the branch will also have a new installation “Something Borrowed, Something New,” by Brooklyn-based artist Jean Shin, to mark the 125th anniversary of Brooklyn Public Library. The installation honors the library’s roots with an upside-down tree to represent the shared history with the library and generations of Brooklynites.

Flushing Library officially reopens

Having been closed for more than two years, the Queens Public Library Flushing Branch officially reopened its doors to the general public on April 25.

The library, which averages approximately 6,000 visitors per day, is one of the largest and busiest public libraries in the entire country.

Local elected officials including City Councilwoman Sandra Ung, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, and Queens Public Library President/CEO Dennis Walcott were in attendance on Monday morning, as the facility officially reopened its doors for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is a great day for the Flushing community,” Ung said. “This library is so much more than a place to check out books, it hosts community events for families, provides a safe place for teens to gather after school, and keeps our seniors connected. For the many local residents who have limited English proficiency, the Flushing Library is often where they learn what is going on in their community.”

Ung said that in fact, all of the shelves on the third floor of the library contain materials in languages other than English.

So this branch doesn’t just serve Flushing residents, it’s a resource for the diverse immigrant communities across the borough,” Ung said. “I’m so pleased that it is finally open to the public again.”

The Flushing Library is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

The Adult Learning Center also reopened on Monday with classes for the public. The Center will be open Monday, Tuesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The library originally closed at the start of the pandemic along with all other QPL branches. The branch temporarily offered to-go service from November 2020 until March 2021, when the city began using the library as a free COVID-19 vaccination site. It quickly became one of the city’s most visited locations.

However, the city was forced to close it in mid-June when the building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system failed. The system failure came at approximately the same time as a planned closure of the branch to construct a second elevator. Work on that project started in December.

The second elevator is scheduled for completion in April of 2023, at which point the current elevator will be closed and refurbished. Both elevators should be operational by December of 2023.

In order to reopen the library to the public, QPL officials agreed to complete the bulk of the work on the elevators at night, so the building can be open during the day. The current HVAC system will still heat the building, while a temporary chiller sitting on a trailer along Kissena Avenue will cool the library. A new permanent HVAC system will be installed within the next two years.

The Flushing branch is the busiest library in the nation. Back in 2019, the facility drew 1.7 million visitors, circulated 1 million items, and brought in 184,000 program attendees, who participated in English classes, GED prep courses, job readiness workshops, and a variety of other programs.

Ung previously toured the library last month with Congresswoman Grace Meng, Richards, and Walcott, who assured her the library would be open in April.

I want to thank QPL President and CEO Dennis Walcott and his team for keeping their promise and reopening the library before the end of the month,” Ung added. “I’m sure in no time this will again be the busiest library in the country.”

Flushing Library to reopen on April 25

The Queens Public Library Flushing Branch will officially reopen to the public on Monday, April 25, at 10 a.m.

The facility closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, along with other QPL branches and it remained closed while other branches began offering partial in-person and pick-up services.

For a brief period in 2021, it was reopened as a vaccination site, offering more than 200 appointments a day, before problems with the HVAC system caused the facility to shut down entirely.

While a temporary HVAC system was put in place, the branch still remained closed for the construction of a second elevator. The work is still ongoing for now, however, a safety plan has been put in place so the work can proceed while the public resumes visiting the library.

With an average of approximately 6,000 visitors per day, the Flushing branch is one of the largest and busiest public libraries in the entire country.

NYC Councilwoman Sandra Ung said that reopening the library has been a priority for her, even before taking office.

I’m so pleased that we finally have a definite date for the reopening of the Flushing Library,” Ung said. “The library is truly the heart of this community, especially for our large immigrant population. More than just a place to check out books, it is essential to our seniors and families, as well as a place for students to gather after school. Not having this facility in our community for over three years was a real hardship.”

Last month, Ung toured the facility alongside U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, and QPL President and CEO Dennis Walcott.

The Flushing Library is one of America’s busiest, and getting this branch open again couldn’t be more critical for all those who rely on it,” Richards said on Twitter back in March when the announcement was first made.

Beginning April 25, the Flushing library will be open from Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., while Sunday service will be restored at a later date.

Flushing’s Adult Learning Center will also reopen on April 25. The hours will be Monday, Tuesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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