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Drag story hour at library canceled after suspicious package and threats, authorities say

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) —

A scheduled “Drag Queen Story Hour” at a Pennsylvania library that had drawn opposition was canceled Saturday after a suspicious package was found in the building and two blocks were evacuated after threats were reported, authorities said.

Police evacuated the Lancaster Public Library after the package was found. A state police bomb squad later cleared the library, but police said “additional reported threats” were still being investigated. Residents of the block and another block nearby were told to evacuate, an order lifted several hours later.

A city spokesperson later told LancasterOnline that a dog had alerted on the package and that the contents were later found to be “benign” but “subsequently, we received additional written threats via email.”

Lancaster Pride, a nonprofit that celebrates the town's LGBTQ+ community, posted a notice on social media that the “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 planned story hour drew impassioned opposition from some residents during a marathon county commissioners meeting Wednesday, the second meeting in a row marked by resident protests after Republican commissioners denounced the event as inappropriate, LancasterOnline reported.

Commissioner Josh Parsons wrote that libraries “should be places for kids to safely read and learn, not politicized social laboratories for woke ideology.” Commissioner Ray D’Agostino said he thought there was a link between children being more “confused, anxious and stressed” than ever and people ”trying to push adult themed issues at such an early age." Scores of people attended a prayer vigil in the plaza adjacent to the library Friday night opposing the event.

Both Parsons and D'Agostino issued statements Saturday afternoon condemning the reported threats and calling for the prosecution of those responsible regardless of their motives, LancasterOnline reported.

"Threats of violence have no place in our debates,” Parsons said.

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

“The library should be a place of safety. ... And as I’ve told people numerous times this week, like every book in the library is not for every person, every program is maybe not for every person. But we don’t censor,” she said.

The listing for the “Drag Queen Story Hour” on the library's events page called on attendees to “Join Miss Amie Vanité as she spreads awareness and acceptance by celebrating diversity, inclusiveness, kindness and love through LGBTQ+ literature for young readers.”

The Lancaster LGBTQ+ Coalition noted “backlash” in a Facebook post earlier this month and decried what it called "hateful comments about the LGBTQ+ community” from public officials.

“We want to be clear that drag story hours for children are NOT the same as adult drag performances,” the group said. The performer, the group said, "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."

Christopher Paolini, who was to read in drag as Miss Amie Vanité, said he had just arrived and was getting ready “when the alarms went off.” He called the turn of events "insane,” LancasterOnline reported.

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