Yesterday, I was privileged to be present at an event that had been at risk of not happening (and that would have been a shame). Yet, the threat against it became a catalyst that caused it to grow from one small library program (among hundreds) to a festive community celebration this year that drew many times over the number of people who would have attended the original event.
The background has now been widely reported, so I will only summarize some key points:
The Denton Public Library (DPL) hosts “Rainbow Storytime” three times a year and, according to the Library, “Its intent is to provide an inviting atmosphere for families to hear stories together featuring books focused on self-acceptance, learning, and friendship.” The DPL event typically coincides with days associated with “‘different’ or marginalized groups.” This time, it was taking place alongside the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a now 22 year-old observance that remembers those who have been (often brutally) murdered because they were transgender.
Due to the efforts of groups inside and outside Denton, the library decided to cancel the event out of concern for the safety of library staff and families (such concerns tend to arise when you receive hostile and threatening phone calls). Don Huffines, candidate for Texas governor, took pride that his efforts resulted in the event being cancelled. Just a few days before, he posted a press release on his website calling for the cancellation of the event and that all city employees who approved the event be fired. Tough talk, big man.
(Side note: Just perusing his website, I can’t help noticing that Huffines has very strong convictions and opinions about many things he understands poorly to not at all).
Another website, which I will not give publicity to, called the cancellation a victory over a “child grooming” event. The group took credit for this “victory.”
Had all of these fine “family values” people actually thought it through, they should have known not to mess with a loving family, especially a mother! Amber Briggle* (mother of a transgender son) immediately began looking for other options. A local Denton coffee house and brewery, Armadillo Ale Works, stepped up after hearing about the cancellation and offered their business as a venue.
So, while Huffines and others were claiming victory and taking credit for shutting down Rainbow Storytime, those on the side of justice, love, care, and compassion were not to be dissuaded. The result was that a simple library event that would have passed quietly by turned into a huge celebration. On the event Facebook page, 151 checked in as of the time of this writing. Being there myself, seeing that Armadillo Ale Works was packed front to back and many people listening in from outside (as a large garage door was open to the patio), I would conservatively estimate at least twice that number turned out overall. The Facebook page had a total of 453 responding (some going, some interested). Assuming the entire world isn’t on Facebook, doesn’t always tell Facebook when they do something, or didn’t switch from “interested” to “attending,” it is reasonable to assume upwards of 400 people were present.
What did I witness? I saw families. I saw children gathered around to hear stories of love and acceptance. I witnessed love and acceptance in action. I witnessed laughter and smiles.
What didn’t I witness? Hatefulness toward anyone (even those protesting across the street—more on that next). Self-righteous pontificating. Anger. I did not witness anyone trying to make children transgender or to “sexualize” them as many claimed this was about.
There were protestors across the street, as I said. I would say roughly about half-dozen. They didn’t really do anything much. They didn’t even really say anything. All I heard the couple of times I was outside before and after the event were pre-recorded prayers playing over a speaker.
Who I did not see was the lady who posted a protest flyer in the comments of a post I made talking about the event a couple of days ahead of it. I also did not see Don Huffines who still, incidentally, has his victory press release on his website about getting the event cancelled. I would like to see Huffines take credit for helping to make Transgender StoryTime a much larger success than the event he interfered with. I can’t say with certainty, but the impression I get is that Huffines doesn’t really care one way or the other, he just used this as a means to play to his base and get some free press.
So, why was I there? Why am I writing about it on my website? Why does a philosopher care?
Why was I there? History. I look back on the history of my country and think on a time when certain people were enslaved for the color of their skin. I think about the fact that just shortly before I was born, black people had to drink from water fountains separate than those of white folk. I think of all the violence and hatred toward homosexual persons our times have witnessed. I think of how, in my very own lifetime, women could not get credit or own homes. Despite all of the advances we have made in these and other areas, ignorance and hatred endures. And, very sadly, transgender persons are among those who are marginalized and who so often have to live in fear. The amount of ignorance I see about what it means to be transgender and the fear and hatred that follow this ignorance astounds me. In short, transgender rights and LBGTQ rights are emblematic of the struggle for the soul of the American vision. Equality. Freedom. Peace. Tranquility.
Whether it is the color of your skin, your sexual orientation, or your gender identification, you have the right to be free of fear and oppression. You have the right to live just as freely as anyone else.
I also attended because I feel it is my responsibility as a philosopher. Sure, philosophy is about clarity of thought and critical thinking and argumentation. Philosophers have much to contribute in terms of ideas and arguments for LGBTQ persons. Philosophy is (or can and should be) a type of activism. But I also needed to be there, to put my philosophy in personal action. Also, although I am a philosopher, that is not all I am. I also just want to be a caring and compassionate human being that can look at someone who lives in fear and tell them I want to help make it okay.
Some fear replacement. “The Jews will not replace us” chanted white supremacists. Or they think those of us who believe that transgender persons have rights to be who they are want to make everyone transgender. Ironically, those who fear being replaced or marginalized are the ones who engage in marginalization. I am a cisgender heterosexual male. I have encountered no LGBTQ person or organization who has the least desire to make me anything else. No one wants to “pray the straight away” in me. They just want to live as I do. I stand with them.
“I knew he was different in his sexuality/I went to his parties as a straight minority/It never seemed a threat to my masculinity/he only introduced me to a wider reality.”Neil Peart
It is long past time for a wider reality. Transgender StoryTime was a win. It was a win for love. It was a win for the future. It was a win for children. It was a win for families. Among the nearly 400 persons in attendance, every color of the rainbow was represented and stood together as one. Transgender StoryTime was a win for a wider reality. It was a win for joy and hope.
*Full disclosure: While I am acquainted with Amber Briggle, having had the pleasure of meeting her on a couple of occasions, I have known her husband for many years as he is a professor where I completed grad school. The Briggles have not requested that I write anything about yesterday’s event and will likely find out about this post around the same time you, my dear reader, will have seen it.