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Dozens of Washoe County residents got mad about an event they don’t have to go to, drive by, or otherwise interact with

David Colborne
David Colborne

For more than two hours, dozens of people demanded that the Washoe County Commission stop Drag Queen Story Hour from happening at the county library.

Was Drag Queen Story Hour on the agenda? No.

Is Drag Queen Story Hour scheduled to occur at a Washoe County library anytime soon? No. The library might host the event again in the summer, but no dates have been established.

Was anything related to the library even on the agenda? Well, actually — yes. The winning bid for the Reno Downtown Library Elevator Modernization Project, which will replace the original elevator installed when Reno’s garden-library was first built in 1965, needed approval. That approval, however, was received unanimously without any objecting public comment.

Does the county commission have any authority over library programming? No. Statutorily, per NRS 379.020, county commissions have the authority to do one thing and one thing only: Appoint five trustees to oversee the county library system, who each serve four year terms. Additionally, there is only one listed statutory criteria under which county commissioners may remove a trustee — if a trustee fails to attend three successive meetings, the county commission may (or may not) remove the chronically absent trustee.

Those trustees, by the way, aren’t the ones who determine whether or when Drag Queen Story Hour will be scheduled, either. Their job, as defined in NRS 379.025, is to appoint a librarian — whose job, as defined in NRS 379.027, is to “administer all functions of the library.” 

Yes, trustees also have power to define the regulations under which the librarian works, so, theoretically, they could pass a “No Drag Queen Story Hour” policy. However, if the policy were actually strict enough to keep Drag Queen Story Hour, or a similarly themed group event, from simply reserving meeting space and holding their own event outside the promotional aegis of the county library system, it would not only violate the content neutrality clauses of the existing Collection Development and Management Policy and Meeting Room Policy, it would also likely run afoul of the First Amendment.

That, incidentally, is why gun enthusiasts get to hold events in libraries, too. Sorry, East Las Vegas residents.

Does the county commission even have authority over library budgeting? Debatably not. NRS 379.010 states that county commissioners may — or may not — set money aside to maintain public libraries. On the other hand, subsection 5 of NRS 379.021 states that county commissions shall — not may, but shall, meaning it’s not optional —  maintain the library fund through a dedicated property tax.

So, to recap, nobody was talking about Drag Queen Story Hour and nobody was planning Drag Queen Story Hour. Even if anyone was, the county commission isn’t the body to bring an objection to Drag Queen Story Hour to since it has no authority to do anything about it. Additionally, even if the protestors went to the correct body to complain about Drag Queen Story Hour, the Constitution likely forbids any governmental body from stopping it anyway.

Then why did the protestors show up?

The technical answer is Bruce Parks, Washoe County Republican Party chairman, told them to via email (apparently people read mass emails, by the way). That explanation, however, just raises further questions — namely, why did he do it?

There are multiple possible explanations, each more unsatisfying than the last.

One possible explanation is that the chairman of a major county political party has absolutely no idea how his county government works or where the levers of power are located. This is deeply unsatisfying since one might expect a basic understanding of county government to be a requirement for someone whose job is to help change how said county government operates.

One might further expect that, if said chair lacks that basic knowledge and understanding, they could communicate directly with county commissioners from their own party to learn and better understand how their county government works so their organizational efforts support their elected officials. One might finally expect that said party’s county commissioners possess a basic understanding of the county government they were elected to govern themselves.

If one has these expectations, one can expect to live a life of perpetual disappointment — especially in Washoe County, where one Republican county commissioner voted against her own election and another Republican county commissioner was elected into the position after committing mail fraud to sexually harass a female county employee.

Another possible explanation is that every single protestor in that room was confused about which state they live in.

For those who somehow missed the name of this very publication, this is Nevada, not Tennessee, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Nebraska, Montana, or any of the other states seeking to ban drag performances this year. In this state, if adults are keeping their clothes on in public, regardless of which clothes they choose to wear at any given moment, that’s mildly miraculous. Adults in drag reading to parents and children in a library is not beyond the pale in a state which publicly advertises, to adults and children alike, scantily clad pool parties, dance clubs, strip shows, and — my personal favorite dodge around NRS 201.440, which prohibits advertising of brothels — “brothel museums.” 

Frankly, the only thing beyond the pale about Drag Queen Story Hour in this state is that our libraries are statutorily prohibited from monetizing the event for every cent it’s worth.

Oh yes, Reno, I know, a lot of our state’s publicly risque image is supposedly more of a “Las Vegas thing,” but let’s not kid ourselves. I am not the only one in this area who passes lingerie store billboards while I drive my child to school. Reno and Northern Nevada more generally aren’t opposed to “sin” and never have been. We’re just more old money — less gauche, less déclassé — about it than our more numerous and commercially amorous cousins to the southeast. Our state’s best-subsidized industrial area, and one of the largest employers in Northwest Nevada, is owned by a local brothel owner. That brothel, the Mustang Ranch, is considerably closer to Reno than any licensed brothel is to Las Vegas. When USA Today, the publishers behind The City podcast, dedicated a season to Reno, what did they cover? Working conditions throughout the region, with a heavy focus on the borderline-exploitative working conditions in local strip clubs. 

We even host Burning Man, which is considerably more risque and libertine than anything that’ll ever happen in a public library — and yes, parents bring their children to that, too. 

No, Northern Nevada isn’t opposed to adults looking sexy in public, as anyone who’s spent more than five seconds with their eyes open while they drive through the Truckee Meadows can attest — not that sexiness is even remotely the point of Drag Queen Story Hour in the first place unless you get your rocks off to Mrs. Doubtfire

Now look, I’m not going to kink shame — in Nevada, shame is beyond the pale (and bad for business). If Robin Williams playing a divorced father who reads bedtime stories to his children while dressed as an old woman excites your prurient interest, I’m not going to judge. I will, however, judge you if you show up to a county commission meeting to demand that our libraries become less sexually exciting to you in particular because the thought of children in the same room as your kink disrupts your flow state or whatever.

By the way, did you know Mrs. Doubtfire was released to theaters thirty years ago? That means many of the children who watched that movie are now grandparents. There — now you’re traumatized.

The final, least satisfying explanation of all, though, is that the chairman of a county party cynically exploited the sort of low information voters who open mass emails to lazily gin up some earned media. If this is the real explanation, the goal was never to change policy or keep Drag Queen Story Hour out of Washoe County’s libraries. Instead, ironically enough, the goal was theater — to act like they have thinner skins than Utahns, who invited conservative drag performer Lady MAGA USA to a state committee hearing, while they publicly performed their latest Two Minutes Hate for the county commission’s cameras.

If this explanation is correct, it paints a horrifying picture for the future of local government. Imagine a spam email reader screaming into a mic on camera — forever.

David Colborne ran for office twice. He is now an IT manager, the father of two sons, and a weekly opinion columnist for The Nevada Independent. You can follow him on Mastodon @[email protected], on Twitter @DavidColborne, or email him at [email protected]


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