Politics & Government

SC GOP lawmaker moves to defund libraries that host events like Drag Queen Story Hour

A S.C. Republican lawmaker wants libraries to ensure the events they host are age appropriate after an Upstate library hosted a children’s story hour featuring drag queens.

S.C. Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville, proposed Tuesday that all state-funded libraries must ensure outside groups that use library facilities comply with the same legislation that regulates public school curriculums. If libraries don’t comply, they would have to return their state funding.

“If it’s not appropriate for our education system, it shouldn’t be appropriate for the library,” Smith said.

Smith pointed to Drag Queen Story Hour, an event held at a Greenville County library branch on Sunday that featured storytellers in drag reading to school-age children. The event was organized by the group Mom’s Liberal Happy Hour SC, and was briefly canceled by the library — but only because the group gave away tickets through an Eventbrite page, which violated library policy.

Smith told the House Ways and Means Committee he thought applying the S.C. Standards for Health and Safety Education Act would make it inappropriate for “four men dressed as women to talk to 3-to-8-year-olds about being transgender and those issues.”

But other lawmakers on the committee pointed out that a library is not a school, and local officials could face lawsuits if they deny public meeting spaces to some groups but not others.

“Are you going to set up a legal defense fund for when the library tells me ‘no’ and I sue them?” said state Rep. Todd Rutherford, a Democrat and Columbia attorney. “I mean, I appreciate it, because I’ll make a good living suing all these libraries that tell anybody ‘no.’”

The committee voted to table Smith’s proposal, killing it.

In 2014, Smith also supported cutting funding for the College of Charleston after the school required incoming freshmen to read “Fun Home,” an autobiographical novel by a lesbian author. At the time, Smith argued the course did not offer multiple perspectives on the book.

“It’s about what’s appropriate and inappropriate for children,” Smith said Tuesday. “That’s the crux of the matter.”

But Rutherford said that was ultimately a question for parents to decide for themselves.

“Did those 3-to-8-year-olds drive themselves” to Drag Queen Story Hour? Rutherford asked. “If not, the parents determined what was appropriate for them to hear.”

Bristow Marchant is currently split between covering Richland County and the 2020 presidential race. He has more than 10 years’ experience covering South Carolina. He won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series on a toxic Chester County landfill fire, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.