Jacksonville, FL — It was intended to be an event where LGBT teens could not only learn more about what Jacksonville Public Library has to offer, but could build a community and meet people in a comfortable setting.
“A fun night for teens who may not feel comfortable in other situations or other places, they may not feel comfortable at another prom. We thought we would give them a nice little prom, where they could have a good time,” says Jacksonville Public Library Assistant Director of Community Relations and Marketing Chris Boivin.
That purpose got derailed, according to Boivin, leading them to cancel the event.
JPL planned to host a free event this Friday night at the Willowbranch Library called The Storybook Pride Prom. Teens between 14- and 18-years-old were encouraged to dress up as their favorite storybook character and come out to the prom event, which would feature music, dancing, a selfie station, and more.
“The Jacksonville Public Library aims to provide a safe place for LGBTQ teens to be themselves, connect with peers, and learn about available resources from local community partners, like JASMYN. It's going to be a magical night, so spread the word and make sure to invite any teens you know of who deserve a fairy tale evening!” says a JPL posting on Facebook about the event.
Boivin says everything was on track, until a few days ago. On Friday, they learned that some material that was not generated from JPL, but spoke about the event, had been shared with a national activist, who in turn shared it on Facebook. The fallout from that led to “strong opinions” being voiced on all sides, according to Boivin.
“Strong rumors of protests being held, and that the same time, strong rumors of I guess you can call them anti-protests being held. It really started to shape up as something where the entire environment around the library would be something that we thought we just weren’t gunna be able to control the risk,” he says.
Boivin says an event participant even received a death threat, so while they worked with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office on trying to develop a plan that could safely manage the event, he says they ultimately determined the risk was too great.
“While the planning team did a remarkable job putting together a program that would have provided a great experience for our teen customers, the co-opting of the event by others who wish to use it for their own purposes has created a situation in which the library is not confident that it will be 100% prepared to provide a safe, secure environment for customers, staff, volunteers, contractors, protestors and active supporters, and most of all for the teens themselves,” says a JPL posting on Facebook.
Despite having to cancel the event, Boivin hopes the teens themselves don’t get discouraged.
“We are sorry this happened. We definitely still want them to know that the library is, has been, and always will be a place that is open to all,” he says.
Boivin says JPL hosts other LGBT-oriented events, and none of those are changing. He says JPL is about creating an environment where people can learn and grow and educate themselves on the world around them, and they will continue to adhere to that mission.