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Library cancels story time after threats of violence

The Drag Queen Story Time event that was scheduled Saturday at the Morgantown Public Library on Spruce Street was canceled after comments were posted to Facebook that the presenters felt their safety and the safety of the event were threatened.

Library staff will replace the canceled event with a story time at the regularly scheduled 10 a.m.

One individual made multiple threatening comments and posts related to the event on Facebook. The Dominion Post has not independently verified the identity of the person posting and cannot be certain that the name used on the site is accurate, and therefore will not identify the name used in the posts.

In one post, the individual wrote, “That’s what I will do you wanted to know (sic),” followed by an image of a sign that reads, “No Trespassing; Violators will be shot; Survivors will be shot again.”

In another post below an article about Paul Liller, who was slated to present the drag character Dimitria Blackwell at the event, the same individual wrote, “I know where you live now who’s out side (sic) your home.”

Below a post about drag queen Robin Hearts-Love, the other scheduled presenter, the individual wrote, “Who wants to bet she doesn’t make it.”

“I’m willing to put my own life on the line when I believe in a cause,” Liller said. “But what I’m not willing to do is put the lives of the library staff, the city council members, of the volunteers, the parents, and, most importantly, I refuse to put the children at risk. Period.”

“Safety has been part of the conversation since day one,” Hearts-Love said. “From the very beginning, we had agreed that if safety was a viable concern that this could not happen.”

Conscious of the potential backlash the event faced, organizers put together a safety plan with local law enforcement. Hearts-Love and Liller said the plan was to have two officers posted at the library’s entrance, as well as another officer with them in the reading area.

“Safety is one of our core values at the library,” said Morgantown Public Library Director Sarah Palfrey. “We take it very seriously every day because we’re a public building, and we welcome everyone into our space. We always want people to be safe, to feel safe and secure while they’re here.”

Drag Queen Story Time was meant to be part of an ongoing series, where volunteers are invited to read stories aloud to children. The goal of the community reading events, Palfrey said, is “to showcase that the Monongalia County community is made up of a wide variety of readers.”

“That’s what this was. They were volunteers who wanted to come in and read stories,” she said.

Palfrey said Morgantown community members specifically requested a reading event involving drag queens after a similar event at Pride last spring, “because it was so much fun. We had the request, and we had volunteers.”

Not all community members were supportive of the event.

“We’re very happy that the library in Morgantown came to their senses and cancelled this event,” said West Virginia Family Policy Council President Allen Whitt.

“We are somewhat concerned, however, with the reasons that were stated for the cancellation, because we are compelled to call those reasons out as being fraudulent.”

Whitt claims that Liller and Hearts-Love used the online comments cited at the start of this story as an excuse to cancel the event and avoid backlash related to volunteers from his organization uncovering Liller’s criminal history.

In 2016, Liller entered an Alford plea agreement in Baltimore Circuit Court on a misdemeanor charge of taking about $700 from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland. Liller had previously worked as deputy director and acting executive director of GLCCB.

An Alford plea, also known as a Kennedy plea in West Virginia, is a guilty plea where the defendant maintains innocence and does not admit to the criminal act, but concedes that the prosecution had enough evidence to obtain a conviction.

“To me, my peace of mind and my mental health was worth more than continuing that fight for 700 and some odd dollars,” Liller said.

Whitt expressed his surprise that the library did not conduct “sufficient background checks to determine that an individual that they were going to invite in to read to children, in fact, just months ago, was a criminal.”

“Let me be clear,” Hearts-Love said. “We would gladly take a background check to read in front of children, and we would be free of anything that indicates any wrongdoing with children and pass any specification that would let us participate in this event, for sure.”

Whitt also claimed that “the supposed victims discouraged the police from actually even investigating that veiled threat.”

Liller and Hearts-Love spoke to Morgantown police Thursday night after they were made aware of the comments on Facebook.

“I chose to let the police have that as a record so that should something happen, it was recorded,” Liller said.

Fearing that police involvement without an arrest would only agitate the individual making the Facebook comments and potentially lead to more extreme action, the pair chose not to file a report.

“If the officers didn’t think that there was enough for the prosecutor to sign off on a warrant, I trusted their judgment,” Liller added.

Liller and Hearts-Love still have the option of pressing charges at a later date. They said no option has been taken off the table, and that right now their focus is on just making it through the weekend.

“We wanted to make sure that the kids were safe, first and foremost, and we’ll figure everything else out after that,” Liller said.

“Our message and the reason for this has always been about literacy and promoting literacy,” Hearts-Love said.

The duo plans on spreading that message on a new YouTube channel called “Drag Queen Story Time.” Every week, the channel will post a video of drag queens, in modestly cut dresses, reading a children’s book out loud.

“That way, parents aren’t afraid of taking their kids out against protesters,” Liller said. “Parents who aren’t comfortable with that material don’t have to let their kids watch it.”