Drag Queen Story Hour event cancelled after bomb threats force mass evacuation in Pennsylvania

Image shows drag queen Aime Vanite reading a childrens book outdoors

Police have been forced to evacuate a public library in Pennsylvania – and two surrounding residential blocks – after bomb threats were made in the run-up to a planned Drag Queen Story Hour event.

Local LGBTQ+ organisation Lancaster Pride posted on social media that “Drag Story Hour with Miss Amie” had been canceled,  saying “the safety and well-being of our community are of utmost importance to us.”

The listing on the library’s website read: “Join Miss Amie Vanité as she spreads awareness and acceptance by celebrating diversity, inclusiveness, kindness and love through LGBTQ+ literature for young readers.”

The event had been protested by a large group who held a prayer vigil outside the library on Friday (22 March), and had led to angry scenes at a recent county commissioners meeting on Wednesday (20 March): the second meeting in a row marked by resident protests after Republican commissioners denounced the event, with one calling it “woke ideology” and another saying “adult themed issues” were being “pushed” on children.

According to local news sources, police evacuated the Lancaster Public Library after a package was found on Saturday morning (23 March).

A state police bomb squad swept the library with dogs and said that the package was “benign”, but police also said “additional reported threats” that had been sent by email were still being investigated. As well as the library, residents of two surrounding blocks were also told to evacuate their homes.

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Miss Amie Vanité, who goes by Christopher Paolini out of drag, told LancasterOnline that he had just arrived and was getting ready “when the alarms went off,” adding that it was “insane”.

“It just hurts my heart that it came to this,” he told local reporters. “I’m not going to stop what I’m doing. This program is too important for too many people.”

The library’s executive director Lissa Holland also told LancasterOnline that she was “really sad, very disappointed and angry” about the cancellation.

The Lancaster LGBTQ+ Coalition joined Holland and Paolini in hitting back at what it described as “hateful comments about the LGBTQ+ community” in the run up to the event, adding: “We want to be clear that drag story hours for children are NOT the same as adult drag performances.

“(The performer) is a professional who has done other story hours for children. She dresses up in fun, whimsical costumes, sings age-appropriate songs, and reads age-appropriate books.”

The Pennsylvania incident is just the latest in a long line of similar threats, protests and acts of violence against Drag Queen Story Hour events in both the UK and US.

In a similar incident that took place in August 2023, A New Jersey community centre for LGBTQ+ people that was targeted by a bomb threat went ahead anyway, and held its Drag Queen Story Hour as an act of resilience.

The bomb threat forced the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice (BRCSJ) to move the planned story-telling, hosted by drag queen Carrie Dragshaw, to an outside space nearby.

Dragshaw, whose wig and crown were left behind during the evacuation, told PinkNews: “The voices of negativity can be loud, but I believe the voices of positivity are greater. A kid was wearing a shirt [with the message]: ‘We’re stronger together’, and I really believe that. I’m a firm believer in not letting the negativity take over the narrative. There’s so much love and joy in the community.”