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

While parents express concerns about books in school libraries, the association to which many school librarians belong is featuring a drag performer and critical race theorist at its annual conference.
April 14, 2022
While parents are expressing concerns about the explicit content of books found in local school libraries, the Texas Library Association (TLA), a nonprofit organization to which over 6,000 librarians and library workers belong, is featuring a “drag performer” and critical race theorist as keynote speakers at its annual conference from April 25-28 in Fort Worth.

According to its website, TLA’s membership includes public, school, and academic librarians. 

Justin Johnson, whose performer 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 be on the evening of the first day of the conference.

Ibram X. Kendi, who is a professor at Boston University, a well-known proponent of critical race theory, and the author of “How to Be an Antiracist,” will speak on the second day of the conference.

Nadine Strossen, a lawyer and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, will speak at the conference about “the history and aims of censorship, current efforts at banning materials in libraries, and how libraries, communities, and friends of libraries can unite their efforts to expand access to free speech as a counter to these efforts.”

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Mary Elizabeth Castle, a senior policy advisor with conservative advocacy group Texas Values, is “shocked that the TLA is having Ibram Kendi and a drag queen as speakers, but also not surprised.” 

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

Mary Lowe, a leader in Moms for Liberty in Tarrant County, thinks the featured conference speakers display a “blatant disrespect to the state of Texas and the repeated position of the Governor and Commissioner of Education” who have articulated positions protecting children from content that they say is too mature for them. 

The content of public school libraries in school districts around the state has been a matter of concern to parents for the last several months. 

Parents in the Katy Independent School District expressed concerns and read portions of some of the graphic content during school board meetings. Similar action has been taken by parents in the 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 account for racially divisive and sexually explicit books in school libraries and classroom collections.

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

The model policy guidance was released on April 11 and noted that “[t]he legal responsibility for the purchase of all library materials is vested in the Board. The board will provide final approval for all new materials added to the library.”

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

In response to the TEA model policy, the TLA said it “appreciates” TEA’s work but emphasized that “[t]he school library collection, developed by highly trained and educated certified school librarians with input from students, teachers, parents, and administrators, must be relevant to the students and campus it serves.” 

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

Castle suggests parents ask their local school boards to adopt this model policy by the TEA. She said that librarians often “act in a silo 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 believes parents need to push back on taxpayer funds going to pay dues to the TLA. “If they lose the ability to get money from any taxpayer funds, we would see the end of this,” she suggested.

The TLA did not reply to a request for comment.


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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a regional reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.

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