POCATELLO — It’s become a custom for many families at Marshall Public Library.
Once a month, a group of local drag queens get together dressed in colorful, flashy costumes, elaborate wigs and in full-make-up to promote literacy, acceptance and kindness to a group of local kids and their parents.
Generally, about 30 to 40 children and parents attend Reading Time with the Queens. The drag queen presenters read books with the children, they sing songs, do crafts and they teach sign language for about an hour.
Organizer Joseph Crupper, who goes by Miss Cali Je while in costume, says it’s a family-friendly program aimed at instilling a love of reading in the younger generation. Topics such as being brave, being a good friend, and learning to deal with emotions are typical during Reading Time with the Queens.
But Saturday’s event wasn’t typical.
Instead of an audience of children and parents, this time Reading Time with the Queens was occupied by a group of non-confrontational protestors from local Christian churches and MassResistance, an extreme pro-family and anti-LGBTQ advocacy group.
“We are not here to stir up trouble,” Mountain Valley Baptist Church Pastor Don Whitecar said Sunday. “But what the (drag queens) do crosses into something vastly immoral, and to sit idly by isn’t really biblical. We care enough about our community to know that this is very wrong, and we’re going to fight it.”
Whitecar tells EastIdahoNews.com this is the first sit-in Mountain Valley Baptist Church has participated in. He says members of the church initially tried to speak to the library board in opposition to the program but were unable to do so.
The Marshall Public Library allows anyone to rent out public space as long as they are respectful and follow the library rules.
The protestors arrived well before the program was supposed to begin. They set up chairs and then filled all of them. When families with small children arrived, they were turned away because the room was at capacity.
One of the organizers of the protest was David Worley, a former Pocatello mayoral candidate and former Republican candidate for Idaho Senate District 29. He declined to comment to EastIdahoNews.com but directed us to a conservative community blog.
“It was great to see Christians of various faith traditions standing together. Members of the LDS Church and at least three other churches were present,” Worley told the Pocatello-Chubbuck Observer. “It shows that you don’t need to agree on every point of doctrine to be united in protecting children from sexual immorality.”
He said these types of events have no place in the public library.
“No public institution should be used to promote sexual deviancy and immorality,” he told the site. “The innocence of children is sacred and should be protected in our community.”
It’s not clear what about the reading program Worley found sexually deviant.
Despite the protest, Saturday’s event wasn’t canceled. Crupper and the Reading Time with the Queens board opted to deliver their entire program. There was reading, singing and teaching sign language.
In a Facebook post, organizers stated they were “disheartened that those who chose to stay removed an opportunity for children in our community to laugh, learn ASL, sing songs and read books together. Children and families in Pocatello deserve spaces that exist to bring them joy, encourage their literacy, and support their lives as whole, complete people.”
Still they said the event was open to the public and hoped in the future, all attendees would consider making room for parents and children who want to attend.
Crupper helped create Reading Time with the Queens in 2017 with the goal of helping young people.
“This is the type of programming we needed when we were younger,” Crupper said. “It is my hope that by delivering these messages … the kids will internalize the presence of these people and remember they too can grow to become happy, healthy adults.”
Crupper has a background in English and creative writing. Others on the board, like Rowan Smith, have backgrounds in working with children.
“A good book … can change lives,” Smith said. “Books are as integral to being human as cooking, dance, music, or sleep. The impact of a life full of meaningful literature really can’t be understated.”
Parents who regularly attend have found value in the program.
“We have been twice,” Pocatello mom Kalli Axford said. “But I want to continue going. We really emphasize reading in our household so I am always looking for ways to make reading time fun.”
She said she appreciates that Reading Time with the Queens emphasizes accepting all people.
Another parent, Jessica Buckley, said she loves the sign language portion of the program.
“I started going for the mini ASL lessons since my kiddo was verbally delayed for a few years,” she said.
Not all reactions to the program are positive, though. Some feedback organizers receive is that the program is bizarre or creepy, something Crupper said is par for the course.
In 2020, a Pocatello man named Ted King publically lobbied against Reading Time with the Queens. He spoke with the City Council and created an online petition in hopes of stopping the program. Ultimately, he ended his campaign after others in the community campaigned for the program to stay. That campaign received more support than his did.
“I was really impressed by him,” Crupper said. “He simultaneously remained resolute in his beliefs while leaving room for everyone’s First Amendment rights.”
Crupper expects continued resistance in some parts of the community, particularly because of efforts by some lawmakers to ban public displays of drag performances.
Late last year, Idaho Family Policy Center President Blaine Conzatti told the Idaho Capital Sun that a bill prohibiting drag performances in all public venues would be proposed during this legislative session. The bill has not yet been introduced this legislative session but still could.
Reading Time with the Queens is offered once a month at Marshall Public Library in Pocatello and in Idaho Falls at Winnie and Mo’s Bookshop. For anyone looking for more information about the events, visit its website or its Facebook page.
There are also YouTube videos available for parents or children to watch previous events.