Daily Herald opinion: Threats of violence on library over drag event are simply unacceptable

Agree or not with the programs a suburban library or even a bakery may hold, but hate is not the way to respond

This editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Herald Editorial Board

Downers Grove police have had to increase patrols around the suburb's library because of threats the library's staff has received about its planned drag-themed bingo event for teenagers in October.

The threats, one of which called for people to “bring weapons” to the library, are simply inexcusable. This shouldn't have to be said, but it's clear it must be again and again, because the threats, if not outright violence, happen again and again.

Bingo games and a short lip-sync performance by a person in drag are planned at the library next month for seventh- through 12th-graders. As of last Friday morning, the staff had received 450 emails and phone calls about the program, about evenly split between supporters and opponents.

And, not all the opposition has been expressed inappropriately. For example, while its fundamental intolerance concerns us deeply, the group Awake Illinois has urged people to contact library officials to complain about the event but has not advocated threats or violence. Nor has another outspoken critic, Republican congressional candidate Keith Pekau.

It's a sad commentary that some of the criticism of the event stoops to prejudices or likens drag performers to child predators, a fallacy and a homophobic slur, but all residents are within their rights to protest a program that a library or other agency might schedule, such as if they disagree with an event for kids with a drag performance. It's when emotions stir suggestions of violence that we must be concerned.

The Facebook comment about weapons was written by an Idaho and former Illinois man, and when an officer in Idaho interviewed him, he apologized and said he doesn't intend to return to Illinois or bring weapons to the event, reports said. Yet the damage is done even by a call for violence. We hope we don't have to again point out recent examples of violence and the tragedy that incitement can incur.

We saw similar threats this year when UpRising Bakery and Cafe in Lake in the Hills was vandalized — windows broken out and epithets written on the walls — before it hosted a drag-themed event. Despite the damage, the bakery got a lot of community support in the end, but it was fortunate the situation did not get even more serious.

Downers Grove library board members are correct in remarks they released in a collective statement last week: “No member of our community should feel unsafe in their homes, places of work or elsewhere in the village of Downers Grove. Promoting civil discourse among the diverse members of our community is important.”

Downers Grove Mayor Bob Barnett is also correct to say, “We encourage citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights peacefully.”

About parents who consider the Downers Grove library's event a poor fit for their families, “that is totally OK,” as library spokesperson Cindy Khatri said. “They can choose not to come.”

Quite right. They can also protest, peacefully.

But calling or writing the library staff with threats takes protesting to a dangerous level and is not acceptable.

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