Jacksonville Public Library cancels 'Storybook Pride Prom'

'We felt we couldn't provide adequate security,' library spokesperson says

By Carianne Luter - Social Media Producer, Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Jacksonville Public Library has canceled an event for LGBTQ youth, saying it was "not confident" that it would be 100% prepared to provide a safe and secure environment for everyone. 

The "Storybook Pride Prom" dance for teenagers ages 14 to 18 was scheduled for Friday at the Willowbranch Branch Library on Park Street in Riverside. 

"Come dressed inspired by your favorite book character -- casual, formal, or in drag -- whatever makes you feel great. Be you!" a flyer for the event read. 

A library spokesperson told News4Jax on Monday that the event was one of many this month to show support of LGBTQ Pride Month, but the library's board of trustees and executive director decided to cancel the event after possible threats over the weekend.

"We felt we couldn’t provide adequate security for the event and that there’s so much uncertainty and based on so many comments that we received over the weekend, so much feedback," said Chris Boivin, with Jacksonville Public Library. "There was a lot for it, but there was a lot of people against having this event. There were some things that could be construed as threats."

The planned event brought positive and negative reactions.  

An email from Biblical Concepts Ministries that was sent out as an "Emergency Alert" over the weekend said: 

"I have spoken to three conservative members of city council late Friday afternoon, all three whom were shocked and disgusted and pledged to stop this inappropriate insanity. One council member had already spoken to the head of the library whom admitted he had approved this."

The email also asked people to contact the city and ask that the event be canceled. 

"We’re absolutely opposed to anything like this," Raymond Johnson, founder of Biblical Concept Ministries said Monday. "I can’t stop private activity, but what I can do is call attention to public tax dollars or public city-sponsored facilities that are participating in an inappropriate event for children."

Beatrice Palmer is a performer who had been scheduled to make an appearance at the event.

"Things like this are going to happen and they’re going to continue to happen and it’s up to us as a community to protect you and it’s up to you to believe in yourself," she said.

More than 100 teenagers were expected to attend the event. Michelle Leipuner, a mother of two, said one of her children had planned to attend.

"I’m a parent of two LGBTQ children and one of them was attending the story time prom being held at our PUBLIC library but due to hateful reactions, it has sadly been canceled," Leipuner said. 

Danny Pearson, 14, and his mother, Michelle, told News4Jax that they are also disappointed.

"Being able to have that chance to be who I wanted to be and not even have to worry about being looked at differently," Danny said.

News4Jax was told there is now a new location for the "Storybook Pride Prom." For more information on the new location, contact JASMYN by visiting its website or contact Palmer on Facebook.

On Monday, the city sent News4Jax the following statement, saying it wasn’t aware of the event until it started receiving calls and emails Friday: 

"Mayor Curry's office was not aware of the libraries plan to hold the pride prom until we started receiving calls and emails last Friday. This was exclusively a decision from Tim Rogers. He organized and also cancelled the event

"This is part of the email that we are sending to people who are writing to the mayor today: 

"Our libraries are valuable centers of learning and gathering in our community where all citizens should feel safe. The Jacksonville Public Library regularly hosts events in their facilities at the request of various groups and organizations throughout the city. These requests are vetted and approved by Jacksonville Public Library leadership and staff. The mayor's office was not informed about this event by Jacksonville Public Library. 

"As you know, public safety is the top priority of this administration, including among Jacksonville Public Library staff. With the number of people threatening to protest and disrupt the event, the Library Director has decided to cancel due to the uncertainty of the library’s ability to ensure the safety of customers, staff, volunteers, contractors, guests and citizens both for and against the library holding this event.  Our Jacksonville Public Library will continue to be a safe and welcoming community resource where all citizens can explore the world around them, regardless of background."

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