Texas Library Association Presents ‘Drag Performer’ and ‘Antiracist’ at Annual Conference

As parents raise concerns about the explicit content of books found in local school libraries, the Texas Library Association (TLA), a nonprofit organization to which more than 6,000 librarians and library workers belong, presents a “ drag performer” and a critical race theorist as keynote speakers at his annual conference April 25-28 in Fort Worth.

According to its website, TLA members include public, school, and university librarians.

Justin Johnson, whose performing name is Alyssa Edwards, will appear in drag and “talk about inclusion, growing up in the Deep South and the importance of acceptance and representation.” His presentation will take place on the evening of the first day of the conference.

Ibram X. Kendi, a Boston University professor, well-known proponent of critical race theory and author of “How to Be an Anti-Racist,” will speak on day two of the conference.

Nadine Strossen, attorney and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, will speak at the conference on “the history and purposes of censorship, current efforts to ban materials in libraries, and how libraries, communities and friends of libraries can join together to expand access to free speech to counter these efforts.

Mary Elizabeth Castle, senior policy adviser at the conservative advocacy group Texas Values, is “shocked that the TLA has Ibram Kendi and a drag queen as speakers, but she’s not surprised either.”

“It’s disappointing that they choose these radical speakers,” but added that the American Library Association, which TLA is affiliated with, “has been a part of promoting social justice and LGBTQ issues for years.”

Mary Lowe, a leader of Moms for Liberty in Tarrant County, thinks the guest speakers show “gross disrespect for the State of Texas and the repeated stance of the governor and education commissioner.” which have articulate positions protecting children from content they say is too mature for them.

The contents of public school libraries in state school districts was a concern for parents for many months.

Parents in the Katy Independent School District have expressed concerns and read portions of some graphic content at school board meetings. Similar action has been taken by parents in Lamar Consolidated and Leander districts.

In October, Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), head of the Texas House General Investigating Committee, sent a letter to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and selected school district superintendents to report racist and sexually explicit books in school libraries and classroom collections.

In November, Governor Greg Abbott directed the TEA to “meet statewide standards to prevent the presence of obscene content in Texas public school libraries.”

The model policy orientation was released on April 11 and noted that “[t]he legal responsibility for the purchase of all library materials rests with the Board of Trustees. The board will provide final approval for all new materials added to the library.

It also recommends that the library materials selection process and materials be made available to parents for review.

In response to the policy of the TEA modelthe TLA said it “appreciated” TEA’s work but pointed out that “[t]he school library collection, developed by highly skilled and educated certified school librarians with input from students, teachers, parents, and administrators, should be relevant to the students and the campus it serves.

The association went on to say that “school libraries do not collect obscene material”.

Castle suggests parents ask their local school boards to adopt this model TEA policy. She said librarians “often operate in silos from the rest of the school.”

Another possible course of action, Castle said, is for parents to file an open records request to see if taxpayer funds were used to pay for registration to attend this conference.

Lowe also thinks parents need to push taxpayer funds to pay TLA dues. “If they lose the opportunity to get money from taxpayer funds, we will see the end of it,” she suggested.

The TLA did not respond to a request for comment.

Andrew B. Reiter