An event promoted as a chance to “create your own ‘happily ever after’” was canceled by the Jacksonville Public Library. The Storybook Pride Prom, an event designed to provide a welcoming, bookish alternative to a school prom for LGBTQ teenagers and their allies, had been scheduled for Friday, June 28 at Willowbranch Branch Library. The Pride Prom was to feature music, dancing, and other typical prom activities, as well as a costume contest judged by prominent local drag performer BeBe Deluxe. Attendees were invited to “come dressed inspired by your favorite book character– casual, formal, or in drag – whatever makes you feel great. Be you!”
The Storybook Pride Prom is part of the national LGBTQ Pride Month, which takes place every June (Jacksonville’s River City Pride celebration takes place in October, due to the heat of June in Florida). The event combines several activities popular among those catering to LGBTQ youth. American libraries have increasingly hosted LGBTQ-friendly storyhours and similar events to welcome LGBTQ kids and families. Additionally, since the 1990s, queer proms have provided a safe environment for teenagers who feel unwelcome at their schools’ official dances.
In canceling the Storybook Pride Prom, the Jacksonville Public Library cited safety concerns due to “the co-opting of the event by others who wish to use it for their own purposes.” According to their statement, “…the library is not confident that it will be 100% prepared to provide a safe, secure environment for customers, staff, volunteers, contractors, protestors and active supporters, and most of all for the teens themselves… It is unfortunate that this event became associated with political statement and shows of activism, as those are not part of the library’s mission in any way.”
The Storybook Pride Prom had been criticized by anti-LGBTQ voices, notably Elizabeth Johnston, a parenting blogger from North Carolina known as “The Activist Mommy”. In a series of posts on Facebook and Instagram laden with homophobic rhetoric (which we won’t be linking here), Johnston attacked LGBTQ pride events being held at public libraries across the country, including Jacksonville’s Pride Prom. In Jacksonville’s case, she encouraged her followers to contact the Willowbranch Branch to “express your disgust that this perversion is taking place in a taxpayer funded library!” Johnston’s posts made specific reference to BeBe Deluxe, although Deluxe noted that she was not performing at the event or being paid to participate.
Similarly, according to News4Jax, Biblical Concepts Ministries, a local organization with a history of anti-LGBTQ activism, attacked the event in a mass email that encouraged people to contact the mayor and city council in protest.
Rumors began that these attacks would lead to anti-LGBTQ protests at the library. Activists planned a Proud of Teen Pride counterprotest outside the Willowbranch Library to support the prom. This ferment led the Jacksonville Public Library to cancel the event over concerns about safety. As Chris Boivin, the library’s Assistant Director of Community Relations and Marketing, told WOKV, “strong rumors of protests being held, and that the same time, strong rumors of I guess you can call them anti-protests being held. It really started to shape up as something where the entire environment around the library would be something that we thought we just weren’t gunna be able to control the risk.”
Willowbranch Branch Library. Courtesy of Jacksonville Public Library
Fortunately for the promgoers, it appears that a replacement venue has stepped up. BeBe Deluxe posted on Facebook that a local church had volunteered to host the prom, although she has not revealed the location, citing safety concerns.
Article by Bill Delaney. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.