A pride festival held at Leander Public Library June 15 that attracted protests sparked the evening’s conversations. Originally advertised as a "Drag Queen Story Hour," the private event, hosted by Open Cathedral Church, was later rebranded as the "Leander Family Pride Festival and Story Time."
A Cedar Park resident, Christine Acheson, said she attended the July 11 meeting to speak out against council members Tim Kelly, Rodney T. Robinson and Dorian Chavez’s presence at the protests. Acheson said she attended the pride event.
“I look up, and I see my city officials standing there next to [protestors] as they shouted horrible hateful things at myself and other marginalized community members,” Acheson told Community Impact Newspaper before the meeting. “They stood there in solidarity, and it was very shocking to me.”
Chavez appeared in an interview on the show “The War Room,” an InfoWars talk show, in early July to discuss the event. During the interview Chavez said he did not think a drag queen story time is appropriate for children.
“Drag queens are adult entertainers,” Chavez said during the interview. “What’s next? Are we going to have story time with a stripper or story time with a porn star?”
Chavez’s presence on the show upset some individuals who spoke during the July 11 meeting. Sonya Lafrance, a Cedar Park resident, said during the public comments portion of the meeting that Chavez’s presence on the show and his online social media accounts reflect poorly on the city. She said the city manager and city attorney should examine Chavez’s behavior and decide on disciplinary action.
“Mr. Chavez conducted an interview on a media network InfoWars, which has been banned on multiple platforms for fake news that inflames followers into posting violent, bigoted comments, threatening physical harm to anyone that they have in their reports,” Lafrance said. “Residents—conservative, liberal and moderate—have expressed concern about how this impacts our city’s public image.”
Cedar Park resident David Ray also spoke during the meeting, noting the library event should not have been characterized as a sexualizing event.
“This event was intended to be an opportunity for children to recognize that not all people are the same and [listen] to stories designed to teach acceptance and understanding of all people,” Ray said.
Individuals also spoke in support of Chavez and other council members. Cedar Park resident Lynn Marx spoke in support of Chavez.
“I would ask everyone to actually listen to his words and also check out other drag queen events across the country to get a full picture of this movement,” Marx said. “Judge for yourselves if this is a positive environment for young children. I believe personally that this event was an exploitation of very young children in the guise of promoting inclusiveness to further a political agenda.”
The controversy surrounding a drag queen story time event in Leander has led to concerns about policies in Cedar Park. Natalie Pollard, a Cedar Park resident, said she thinks the city should learn from the events that took place in Leander.
“The public library is not a place for drag queen story times or pride parades, but it is also not a place for Bible story readings or Christian family value festivals,” Pollard told City Council. “I come before you tonight asking you to please use this experience of our neighboring city to proactively evaluate our own policies here in Cedar Park.”
The local conversation also attracted a member of the activist group MassResistance, which is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Tracy Shannon, who said she is a leader of the Houston chapter of MassResistance, addressed council members during the meeting.
“We do support pro-family values and decency with minors,” Shannon said of MassResistance. “You guys have a job to do. You need to bring this community together, not by capitulating and not by apologizing for when you’re right and you’ve done the right thing."
After the public comments portion of the meeting, Chavez said in response to the comments shared that he would continue to stand his ground.
“The only thing I want to say about tonight is that I will continue to stand my ground for the children,” Chavez said. “I think it’s very important to protect our kids, and I’m going to do it all the way to the end. It doesn’t matter what you say or what you make up or anything. I will continue to fight."
Robinson said he hopes the community can find a way to come together. He asked for forgiveness at the previous city council meeting June 27, during which three community members also expressed various views on library events and council members’ behavior.
“As a councilman, I am new,” Robinson, who was sworn into office in May, said at the June meeting. “I’m learning. However, I work for all people, I support all people, and I love all people in this city. … Please forgive me for my wrongdoings. I’m going to make mistakes. I am going to fail. I am not perfect, but I want to work for all people.”
Mayor Corbin Van Arsdale said after the comments at the July meeting that the council will address issues presented that evening in a future agenda items. In an interview after the meeting, Van Arsdale said he would be interested in having community input in discussions regarding library policies going forward.
Van Arsdale also said there is a possibility council will discuss guidelines for council members in the future.
“I think right now there is a desire to get back to the actual city services and the actual meat of the issues being raised, not the personalities,” Van Arsdale said. “There’s things you can do that deescalate it, and things that you do to escalate it. My hope is that people will choose to deescalate.”