Rockton library didn’t expect drag controversy to grow

The Talcott Free Library wanted to do something for the teens that requested it, not become the target of groups from outside of Rockton.

ROCKTON – The Talcott Free Library, the center of the latest controversy about drag, did not expect the uproar.

“We were very surprised at the number of people who attended the meeting,” said Megan Gove, the library’s director. “We thought some may come, but what that was, was a circus, almost entirely due to outside sources that have taken on our program as their campaign even though it does not affect them and their tax dollars in any way.”

More than 500 people, opponents and supporters of a drag Q&A set for July 14, came to a library board meeting to discuss holding the event after complaints. The board voted four to two to keep the event. Opponents, led by a group from Rockford 15 miles away, immediately announced plans to protest the event itself. Local residents who had organized to support the event announced their own plans to support and protect the event. The number of opponents and supporters was expected to reach 1,500. Rockton itself has only 5,300 residents.

The library itself has been deluged with people contacting them about the meeting.

“These outside groups have bombarded the library with every form of contact they can find, be it phone, email, chat, etc. for weeks on end now,” Gove said. “We’re talking thousands of contacts.”

The expected crowd also forced the library to take the event online, hoping to defuse any on-site protests. Rockford Family Initiative, the group leading the opposition, celebrated the cancellation of the in-person event and said they would still protest at the library itself on July 14.

“But unfortunately, it seems that moving the event virtual does not seem to have had any effect on the plans of the protesters/counter-protesters,” Gove said. “I will end up having to close the library for the safety of the patrons and staff when there is not even an event happening inside the building.”

Gove said that the drag Q&A was moved to virtual after discussions with the local police and fire departments because the small downtown of Rockton can’t handle such a large protest. And all of it has taken a toll on the library staff.

“The staff morale is low due to having to deal with this bombardment,” she said. “Some are even needing to take mental health days just to be away from the madness for a day. I will say that this week seems to have taken a turn and is a bit quieter.”

Right now the focus is on keeping the virtual event safe. Information on it will be released next week.

“My one wish is that the supporters change their minds and decide to do something other than counter-protest—maybe even a viewing party, or a peaceful rally in the park,” Gove said. “Clashing against the protesters is not going to be a good outcome for anyone and I already know that there is nothing that I can say or do as the library to stop them from coming at this point.”

Even as the library has come under fire, there’s also been support.

“Once people found out how we were being bombarded they started their own calls, emails, etc. to let us know that we had support, even going so far as to drop off flowers and treats for the staff,” Gove said. “I have heard that a group has created a GoFundMe but don’t know much about it.”

The GoFundMe was organized by Rockton Pride, which was organized in the wake of the library board meeting to support the event and the LGBTQ community in town. As of Thursday, July 6, they’ve raised $600 of their $1,000 goal for the library.

Gove said that since it was an event requested by teenagers and for teenagers, plus being in line with the library’s theme of “Find Your Voice,” there wouldn’t be a huge issue. The Q&A is an hour-long presentation with no actual performance in it. Since it wasn’t a drag queen story hour, the opposition wouldn’t be as strong.

“I thought there would be some division within the community, of course, but nothing like what it has become, mostly by being targeted by the Rockford Family Initiative who have no bearing on our library anyway as they live outside of our library district,” she said.

The drag Q&A is still set for Friday, July 14, online.

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