LGBTQ back-to-school event canceled after controversy in Arkansas

The event would have included a resource fair, picnic, concert and dance party at the Fayetteville Public Library. Security concerns prompted the organization to cancel.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark — Day in and day out, the Fayetteville Public Library hosts all kinds of events for a variety of organizations.

Northwestern Arkansas LGBTQIA+ youth advocacy group The Equality Crew has planned a back-to-school event to be held at the library this weekend. The organization canceled the eventciting security concerns.

The back-to-school festival would have included a resource fair, picnic, concert and dance party.

“We felt this was an opportunity to put resources into the hands of a student population who may not feel comfortable with some of the traditional outlets when it comes to school supplies. “said David Johnson, executive director of the Fayetteville Public Library.

The library was just going to provide the space for the event. Shortly after posting about it online, Johnson says the complaints started coming in. Most of the concerns were about a drag show associated with the dance party.

“I know that from an administrative standpoint, we didn’t know until the promotional material was released that there was going to be some kind of, in quotes, ‘drag’, performance or appearance,” said Johnson.

Fayetteville parent Paul Heck was among those who expressed concern.

“It’s not appropriate for a drag show to be held for children in a bar in Dallas, Texas, let alone a taxpayer-funded establishment, you know, like a library where we encourage children to go,” Heck said.

Online posts called for the event to be canceled and encouraged people to call the library and its board members.

Johnson says that in addition to the drag show, there were also concerns about whether or not there would be adult supervision.

“Anytime we have an event involving minors, parents are allowed to be there. And there would be adult chaperones,” Johnson said.

The Equality Crew declined 5NEWS’ request for an on-camera interview, but released the following written statement Thursday, August 4:

“The Equality Crew was to host a Back to School Festival on Sunday, August 7, 2022 at the Fayetteville Public Library. This event was co-hosted by the Equality Crew and the Fayetteville Public Library. The library was to provide space for all components of the Back to School Festival, which included a community resources and connections fair, a community picnic and concert, and a dance party. The library also supported the event with event management, the teen library and facility staff.

The Community Resource & Connection Fair and the Community Picnic & Concert were free and open to the public. As with most school and community dances, the back-to-school dance party was open to new middle and high school students. Registration for the dance was free but required so The Equality Crew could ensure safety by collecting emergency contact details for each participant.

The Equality Team and the Fayetteville Public Library recruited about a dozen volunteers to act as dance chaperones. These volunteers had to pass a background check, a National Sex Offender Registry check, and undergo extensive training, including Arkansas Mandated Reporter Training and promoting the emotional well-being of LGBTQ+ youth. The site would not safely allow more than 200 young people accompanied by 2 or more parents to stay in accordance with fire safety codes.

The Equality Crew previously held a prom with over 150 students (open to grades 10-12 only) in attendance and over 50 vetted and trained volunteers with no incidents of abuse, neglect or injury. This event has proven to provide a valuable safe and inclusive space for students who otherwise might not have been able to take advantage of such a step due to an increasingly discriminatory and anti-LGBTQ+ environment in our state.

On Thursday, July 28, 2022, The Equality Crew was made aware of several direct communications made to the Fayetteville Public Library regarding the Back to School Festival. After reviewing publicly posted communications and finding that they were increasingly violent and threatening towards potential attendees, parents, volunteers and organizations, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the event. This was largely due in part to the growing number of violent and disruptive attacks on parents, children and organizers seeking to serve members of the LGBTQ+ community or provide inclusive programming, particularly in public library spaces. of the whole world.

LGBTQ+ youth in the state of Arkansas and across the country are historically underserved and experience anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination from many angles. In a Survey 2019, GLSEN found that the vast majority (87%) of LGBTQ+ students in Arkansas regularly hear anti-LGBTQ+ remarks and experience bias at school. Nearly three-quarters of students reported experiencing at least one form of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, and at least 90% of LGBTQ+ students in Arkansas did not have access to resources and supports at school. Additionally, the Trevor Project 2021 National LGBTQ Youth Mental Health Survey found that 94% of LGBTQ youth said recent politics had a negative impact on their mental health. Research shows that having support at home, at school, and in their community is the best defense against suicide attempts among LGBTQ+ youth. The Trevor Project reports that LGBTQ youth who had access to spaces affirming their sexual orientation and gender identity reported lower rates of suicide attempts than those who did not. Yet only 14% of LGBTQ+ youth in the South report having access to LGBTQ+ affirming community events.

According to preliminary results from our survey of LGBTQ+ youth, youth in Northwest Arkansas reported a need for safe and inclusive events, such as proms and back-to-school dances.

We are disappointed, sad and upset that this vital event could not take place safely. We will continue to move forward with regular monthly programming including events for LGBTQ+ youth in a safe and inclusive manner with increased attention to safety and de-escalation needs. We know that many students and families have been looking forward to the Back to School Festival, including the resources and community connections to provide. We encourage you to contact The Transition Closet for any back-to-school clothing needs. We have also developed a back-to-school guide for LGBTQ+ students and families available on our website (www.theequalitycrew.org/resources), as well as our Teacher and School Staff Affirmation Database.

We look forward to seeing you again very soon and hope you have an amazing school year!”

Johnson says library staff met with members of the organization earlier in the week.

“They expressed their apologies and concern for the response we were getting, and that we all agreed that we can be better at what we do. Moving forward having learned from this “, Johnson said.

He says that following this incident, the library will review its processes.

“We just want to continue to support everyone in this community and make sure everyone feels like they’re getting the best value for their tax dollars invested,” Johnson said.

Those who had planned to attend the event can Click here for helpful resources.

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Joseph K. Bennett