A Florida church is being recognized for supporting LGBTQ teens.
In Jacksonville, Florida, the Storybook Pride Prom was a proposed event to honor LGBTQ teens. At it, the teens were given a space to be themselves, date, and have fun with others like them and their allies. Unfortunately, this year’s event was almost canceled thanks to conservative backlash.
The Willowbranch Library was going to host the event where teens could dress in the costumes of their favorite book characters, in drag, or in anything else that made them feel good. Unfortunately, conservative blogger Elizabeth Johnson, who goes by the name “Activist Mommy,” was displeased with this event and publicly complained.
Johnson then listed the library’s phone number and encouraged her followers to “express your disgust that this perversion is taking place in a taxpayer-funded library!” This created a tidal wave of criticisms directed at the library that included angry phone calls and demands for the library’s director, Tim Rogers, to resign. Eventually, the organization decided to cancel the event to ensure the teens’ safety.
As Chris Bolvin, a spokesman for the Jacksonville Public Libraries, stated:
“As a small, non-activist organization, we had never dealt with this kind of thing before,” he wrote. “With one week to go before holding a brand-new event for teens, we felt out of our element and unprepared to ensure the kids’ safety and sense of security. We had the teens’ well-being and safety in mind when we canceled, and nothing else. We did not realize how the cancellation would impact the LGBTQ community, and for that, we are very sorry.”
But thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.
According to Boston.com, the Buckman Bridge Unitarian Universalist Church in Jacksonville decided to host the event themselves. While the event was being held this past Friday, 50 volunteers, made up of LGBTQ veterans, private security, and the Jacksonville sheriff’s office, also showed up to protect the 100 teens in attendance.
“It was the right thing to do,” Former Church President Grace Repass said in a statement to The Washington Post. “The LGBTQIA+ youth in our community deserve to have their prom and we wanted to support them.”
“We see our church as a safe place for people who are figuring out who they are,” she added. “Our Unitarian Universalist values call us to respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person. So, it’s a matter of integrity-to act in alignment with who we say we are.”
Michelle Leipuner, who is the parent of two attending teens told the Washington Post that she believes Rogers “caved” to online pressure. She believes there was no real danger and thus no cause for cancellation. She then applauds the church for helping her kids in this last-minute crisis. Leipuner also spoke fondly of seeing her son shine while dressed in drag.
“He was the belle of the ball,” she said. “He had a gorgeous gold dress on. He was beautiful.”