Don Nettleton

The Okanagan Regional Library operates all libraries in the South Okanagan, except Penticton.

KELOWNA — Librarians will be allowed to make their own decisions on what special programs to present, even if the offerings cause some controversy.

The Okanagan Regional Library board of directors decided Wednesday not to intervene in such decisions. The stance effectively clears the way for the downtown Kelowna branch to keep presenting a drag queen show aimed at children.

Several hundred people wrote letters to the board about Drag Queen Storytime, both for and against it continuing. In the program, a man dresses up a woman and reads to kids.

Don Nettleton, the ORL’s chief executive officer, had suggested the board issue specific guidelines to branches on what kind of children’s programming is appropriate. He wrote that Drag Queen Storytime “will be offensive to a significant segment of our society.”

But, not only did ORL board members, made of politicians from Okanagan towns and cities, not accept Nettleton’s suggestion, he was directed along with all senior staff to “take sensitivity and diversity training,” according to a release from the ORL after the board meeting.

Individual branch librarians, the release states, are the ones best able to make programming decisions that are “relevant to their community.” Parents can choose whether or not to allow their children to attend programs such as Drag Queen Storytime, the release adds.

The Kelowna branch’s Drag Queen Storytime featured a performer who goes by the name Miss Freida Whales. It was geared to children between three and six years of age.

“Drag Queen Storytime is inappropriate for their age, needlessly divisive to the community and deviates from the board’s main purpose of early literacy encouragement in a safe and neutral environment that everybody in the community will find acceptable,” Nettleton wrote in his letter to the board.

Drag Queen Storytime originated in San Francisco as part of the LGBTQ2+ movement and has since expanded to public libraries across North America. Supporters say it promotes a message of gender diversity, sexual choice, and community acceptance.