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A drag queen story hour event at a local children’s museum in Lincoln, Nebraska, was canceled after organizers received threats of violence.
The LGBTQ group OutNebraska had rented out the Lincoln Children’s Museum for two hours on Saturday, July 28, partnering with the Nebraska chapter of the national organization Drag Queen Story Hour, which plans events at cafes, libraries, or community gathering spaces where drag queens can read aloud children’s books — particularly those that might not be available in public school libraries.
The events, and, often, the reading materials, are intended to teach children a lesson about tolerance and accepting people different from themselves, such as members of the LGBTQ community. But some critics have objected to the use of taxpayer dollars — particularly when events are held in public libraries — to promote an event featuring non-traditional expressions of gender or sexuality.
Organizers with OutNebraska had set up an Eventbrite page for the event, and about 50 people responded to the invitation, saying they planned to attend. The private event was not museum-sponsored, and was to be held after regular hours.
But a wave of nasty messages, including threats of violence and death threats, began to pour in, with people attacking the museum, OutNebraska, and Drag Queen Story Hour’s Nebraska chapter, accusing them of seeking to indoctrinate children or harming their mental health.
The Lincoln Police Department told The Hill that police started to investigate a complaint from the museum about the threats it was receiving.
“Museum officials explained they received communication from unknown individuals about an event to be held at the museum by OutNebraska, and they felt the communication threatened the safety and wellbeing of the attendees,” the police department said in a statement.
“LPD is investigating all leads, including whether these threats were directed at OutNebraska and its ties to the Lincoln LGBTQ+ community.”
Thus far, police have made no arrests.
The museum lamented the cancellation on social media, but Tara Knuth, the museum’s executive director, said the cancellation was prompted by concerns that they would not have sufficient protection for event attendees.
“We are very saddened to say this event has been cancelled due to the growing safety concerns that have been created by some in our community. Over the past few days, the Lincoln Children’s Museum and event host OutNebraska have both received an overwhelming number of threats of violence against our organizations, many going as far as death threats,” the museum wrote in an Instagram post.
Waylon Werner-Bassen, an organizer and one of the drag queens performing at the event, told the Lincoln Journal Star that he had engaged in several extensive conversations with police about how to hold a safe event. But several negative and inflammatory posts — featuring a photo of Werner-Bassen’s drag persona, Mrs. Yuka Layme — circulated on Facebook, spreading misinformation about the event, and leading to additional threats of violence.
“Some of the threats and things were pretty valid, and it was better to be safe and not have it,” Werner-Bassen said.
He added: “It really hurts, and it’s very personal when the comments and things are attacking you and your family.”
Abbi Swatsworth, the executive director of OutNebraska, thanked the community for the support the organization received after the threats first surfaced. While disappointed that the event had to be rescheduled, “we are not discouraged.”
“The support our community has shown heartens us to continue our mission to educate, advocate and celebrate in service of LGBTQ+ Nebraskans,” Swatsworth said.
Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird issued a statement condemning the threats made against the museum and drag performers.
“Playing politics with people’s lives is never acceptable,” she said. “Misinformation spread about a private event at the Lincoln Children’s Museum inspired threats and fueled hatred and fear. All threats are being investigated by the Lincoln Police Department, and, to our LGBTQ friends and neighbors, know you are loved and welcome in our city.”
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