Whiting board emails, texts tell a fuller story of drag queen event Board chair: 'This program must never go forward'

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

While the chairman of the Whiting Library Board of Trustees told The Telegraph that the board’s trouble with a reading program featuring drag queens was a misunderstanding, and then called it “off base” to characterize the board’s action as “shutting it down,” a review of the board’s internal communication obtained through a Public Records Act request tells a different story, as does the board’s acceptance of the library director’s resignation at a special meeting on Thursday, May 19.

A screenshot of Nied’s text to Trustee Rosamund Conroy on the day that he called Library Director Deirdre Doran to take down the Facebook announcement of the program

The program — Drag Queen Story Hour —  was founded in 2015 and has chapters across the United States, including Vermont where the it has been held a number of times at libraries in communities large and small.

The emails and text messages released to The Telegraph on Tuesday, May 17 show how trustee reactions ranged from perplexed to quite upset and that those were only amplified when library director Deirdre Doran pushed back against the board’s chair  – Robert Nied – later in the week.

The whole episode began on Tuesday, May 3 when, according to Doran, the announcement of the summer reading program, which included the Drag Queen Story Hour, was posted on Facebook by Carrie King, the youth services librarian, at about 12:40 p.m. after which King said she went to lunch. Within minutes, according to Doran, Nied responded “yelling at me to censor a library program.” Responding to a Telegraph question, King said the post had been removed by the time she returned from lunch half an hour later.

Later Doran wrote that Nied told her that “members” were questioning the program. It is unclear how many members Nied had time to speak with in those few minutes and there was only one written contact with a board member in those documents released to The Telegraph from that day. It was at 1:55 p.m., well after Nied’s call to Doran.

That contact was a text from Nied to vice chair Rosamund Conroy: “So Deirdre just posted on Facebook that the library would be hosting a drag queen story hour. I can only imagine the comments to follow. Should I start drafting my resignation letter?”

Wednesday, May 4

On the following morning, Doran sent an email to all seven members of the Board of Trustees saying that Nied had told her that members of the board questioned the program. She then laid out how Drag Queen Story Hour fit the library’s mission of diversity, equity and inclusion and how it fit into a larger set of programs including collaborations with the Nature Museum and Chester-Andover Elementary, adding, “This is going to be an excellent summer.”

Library Director Deirdre Doran sent an email to the board explaining the program on May 5. That email was not included with the board’s response to the Public Records request.

Doran also said that Nied was “specifically concerned with comments on Facebook,” but she felt that this presented an opportunity to work on a social media policy for how the library would deal with potentially offensive reactions.

And while Doran’s May 4 email fit The Telegraph’s Public Records request, it was not among the emails provided by the board.

There were also email exchanges on May 4 between Doran and two trustees – Donna McNeill-Hudkins and Katherine Poston – who had questions, but were generally interested in and supportive of the drag queen program. Poston said it “sounds like fun”  and asked a few questions about how old the children would be and if they would be accompanied by an adult as well as which books would be read to the children. McNeill-Hudkins said it was not the program – “which is great” –  but the fact that it’s controversial that made her wish the library staff had given the trustees a heads up so they would be equipped to answer questions that would come up from the public.

Doran’s statement to the trustees

In an email on Thursday, May 5 – when the library was closed – Nied told Doran that when the board  enters into executive session on Tuesday, May 10 to discuss the scheduling of the program, she may or may not be asked to join them but that was “TBD” or “to be determined.” He said that at that time the board would decide whether to hold the program as scheduled, postpone it or not present it and that until that was decided  the drag queen program was on hold and she should stop promoting it. Discussing programs is not among the exemptions from Vermont’s Open Meeting Law which would allow for a closed door session.

The poster announcing the story hour as part of the summer reading program

One hour later,  Nied emailed Doran to praise her performance and that of King in previous programming. He said that in this case the concerns were “related to incidents that have occurred in response to similar programs here in VT and elsewhere, and others are about the protocol for the consideration and scheduling of programs that are known to be controversial.”

On Saturday, May 7, Doran wrote that since she did not know whether she would be able to speak to the board, the following Tuesday, she was submitting a lengthy statement to the board in which she explained – sometimes in withering terms – the role of the board in supporting the decisions of the library director and knowing and understanding the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, which the Whiting Library has adopted.

Doran wrote that the “labeling of LGBTQ+ events as too ‘controversial’ for the library is the exact opposite message that I want to send the children of this community. They deserve better. They deserve a world that welcomes them, represents them, and celebrates them. The least the library can do is contribute to the creation of that world by offering a safe space, resources, and programs that reflect them. All of them.

“As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I know what it feels like to be marginalized, unrepresented, to be afraid to show up and to feel unsafe. How should I interpret this immediate shutdown of LGBTQ+ program leaders at the library for me as a worker here? Is it not okay to say gay in this library? You can apologize all you want by saying you have the best interests of the library at heart, but you don’t here. What’s in the best interest of the library is to be a welcoming, safe, and inclusive space as requested by our community and needed by the staff.”

“The community deserves better and so do I,” said Doran in closing.

Shortly thereafter, Nied emailed trustee Ed Grossman saying that he was personally insulted by Doran’s statement and wanted the board to “actively weigh in” on the situation rather than having his “disappointment and aggravation steer the discussion.”

In another email to Grossman later that evening, Nied denied that he had yelled at Doran and called LGBTQ programs controversial. “The vague inference of some kind of discrimination is outrageous and bordering on defamatory,” Nied wrote, pointing to his own work with LGBTQ organizations in Vermont, a daughter who is a member of the LGBTQ community and closed saying “Deirdre’s misrepresentations, presumptions and confrontational rhetoric is inflammatory and, in my opinion, borders on insubordination.”

Three hours behind closed doors

Katniss Everqueer, left and Emoji Nightmare perform a story hour at the Wilder Library in Weston last weekend

The agenda of the trustees’ regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, May 10 was a long one, starting with an executive session to discuss “personnel issues.” The exemptions from Vermont’s open meeting law that were cited to allow the board to close the doors on the public were “contracts,” “labor relations agreements with employees” and discussion of “a disciplinary  or dismissal action against a public officer or employee.”

The session lasted more than three hours and broke up only when the board lost its quorum as members had other things to do. As a result, Nied said they could not take public comment – a requirement of most public meetings – and the board meeting ended apparently without coming to a resolution, although it scheduled a special meeting  for that Friday, May 13.

On the evening of May 10, according to another email to Grossman, Nied first learned of some  content on the website of the two drag performers who would be doing the story hour. Nied called the content “pornographic,” and “some of it extreme.” Then on Wednesday, May 11, Nied told Grossman in an email that it was “beyond comprehension to think that Deirdre did not vet the two presenters” and that a young person going to the site might see that content.

“I am deeply concerned that we are sitting on a time bomb here,” wrote Nied, “I have revised my position. This program must never go forward and both Deirdre and Carrie must be reprimanded for scheduling a program and not vetting the presenters who have pornographic content on their website. I also think action should be taken immediately.”

‘This program must never go forward and
both Deirdre and Carrie must be reprimanded’
– Robert Nied – May 11

Grossman agreed that promotion of the event should be stopped immediately, and that “we can wait until Fri. to address consequences…”

Also on May 11,  Nied emailed Doran to ask who would be performing the renamed “Make Believe Story Hour” scheduled for the same day as the paused drag queen reading, since the library was using the same photo in promoting it. Doran said it would be a dress up event and whether or not there would be specific performers was “TBD.”

Nied responded, and asked for a direct answer to whether the two drag performers booked for the original program would be at “Make Believe Story Hour.”

A promotional poster for the ‘Make Believe Story Hour’

In an email to the entire board, Doran wrote: “If possible, the Make Believe story time will have the special guest performers, Emoji Nightmare and Katniss Everqueer. I was under the impression that the board would decide whether or not to ban these performers and let us know. If the drag queen performers have already been banned, could you please let us know so we can inform them? The Make Believe Story time would be the same program but with Carrie being the reader, or perhaps some acceptable person dressed up as something acceptable…everyone would be encouraged to dress up as they wanted to and read stories about inclusivity and being yourself.

“If dressing up at the library and make believe are also out of the question, that would be good to know as well. Perhaps a list of acceptable dress up options for staff or performers is in order if there is some leeway.”

On the following day, Thursday, May 12, Doran resigned.

The board heard from Doran in one of two executive sessions on Friday, May 13 but once again did not resolve any questions.  Asked if Doran’s resignation was still in effect after her meeting with the trustees, Nied said he could not comment.

“The board is still interacting with the director. The director is still the director as of now,” said Nied. “That’s all I can say … there has been no resolution.”

Later on Friday, Nied spoke with The Telegraph.

“We believe there is some misunderstanding in the community about a program that was paused at the request of the Board of Trustees to discuss further with staff for understanding the program,” said Nied. “It was not cancelled or censored and it’s off base to say we were shutting it down.” Nied also said that the board encourages programming that fosters inclusion and supports the LGBTQ community.”

Related coverage

Board accepts resignation over public protest

A second special meeting of the board was scheduled for Thursday, May 19 only on Zoom. The board met with more than a dozen members of the public in attendance and quickly moved to go into executive session, which Nied said they would try to hold to 45 minutes.  A few people protested that they wanted to make a comment and not be put in a Zoom waiting room until the closed-door session was finished.

Screenshot of the May 19 meeting of the Whiting board

A person identifying himself only as “Peter” said he was on a lunch break and could not take more time off.  He said the meeting was “not scheduled for folks who work.”

Chester resident Emily Burkland said she wanted to “empower the board to make a move to put comments at the front of the meeting.”

Nied said that there could be comment, but the board would be limited in what members could discuss until after the executive session.

The board entered executive session at 1:15 p.m. and came out 24 minutes later.

Nied asked for a motion to accept Doran’s resignation.

“I’m really upset that you went into secret session to do this,” said Burkland, “I really wish you weren’t getting rid of Deirdre.”

Nied asked Burkland to hold her comments until after the vote but she responded “No, I want you to not get rid of Deirdre.”

Again, Nied told Burkland  that it was not the time for comments.

“I wish the board was working to get her back,” said Burkland. Nied then muted her.

Emily Burkland at the Zoom meeting asking board members to find a way to keep Doran

The board voted to accept the resignation, with members saying that Doran had submitted it and that the board did not request it.

Before the public comment period, Nied gave a detailed chronology of outlining the board’s side of the story. He said that they were concerned that the program was controversial and that there might be threats against the library and staff. He said the trustees did not get a heads up about it so they would be able to talk with community members and that there was no contingency plans for safety.

Nied said he only asked Doran to pause the program not ban it. He also said that an email from Doran to the board was “misleading and not necessarily accurate.” He said that then the board became aware of the website of the two performers slated to do the story hour and found it contained “explicit adult material,” which he called “jarring and disturbing.”

Saying that a parent or a child could Google the performers and find this content, Nied asserted that a children’s performer needs to be carefully selected.

“No one said we can’t do this program,” said Nied, “…it doesn’t mean Drag Queen Story Hour is not in the future of the Whiting Library nor does it mean that the Whiting Library is not committed to programs that are inclusive.”

‘No one said we can’t do this program’
– Robert Nied – May 19

At about 2:15 p.m., after there were comments by other board members, the public comment period began.

Chester resident Linda Diak asked several questions around the idea that it is the job of librarians to do the programming not the board of trustees.

Burkland  said, “The board could have fixed this and kept our librarian. The issue is that we lost our librarian … we had a librarian and she was wonderful.”

While some boards take public comment without replying in return, Nied had responses for most people’s remarks.

“I agree that this is a true tragedy to lose a good librarian and in hearing the details of what happened I can’t help but think it was avoidable,” said Andover resident Bob Behr, who told Nied he was making a comment that did not require an answer from him, “I think there was a failure in how this came about.”

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  1. Barre Pinske says:

    It’s very unfortunate when positive intentions create a negative fall out. Drag Queens reading to kids to create inclusion, a board thinking of protecting kids, fearful of repercussions by the public and slow to catch on to the innocence of it all. We have learned in hindsight the board was protected they did not need to do a thing no fall out would have come their way it’s on the director for better or worse to plan events Library directors are autonomous.
    My perspective may seem long winded but I want to paint a clear picture to make my point. I may have enjoyed more drag shows than any straight person in this area. For years starting in the late 80’s, while on Cape Cod, friends and I went to Jacques Cabaret in Boston’s Back Bay which had Drag shows every night of the week. I had a front row seat to the entertainment, culture, hardship of the aids epidemic was shocked and saddened by of the murder of black gay twin who use to be there with their brother. The news story suggested a date may not have known their true gender and became enraged and killed them.

    I witnessed the success of safe sex practices and also recognized how the AIDS tragedy brought a much closeted gay community out into the light for an unprecedented cultural shift of acceptance. That time in history brought us a powerful movie Philadelphia, an Academy award winning Best Actor performance by Tom Hanks and the amazing Springsteen song both made me cry. One of my favorite stories I like to tell a friend met May a Thai T girl who passed as a woman thanks to very feminine features, skilled makeup and two well placed plastic surgeries. She had on a stereo typical working girl style outfit, thigh high leather boots, a short leather mini skit and a revealing top. She asked my friend for a ride to another part of town and off we went. When we arrived at the destination she could not get out of the back of the car because the child safe door locks were on in my friends car. I got out to open the door many people stared as May got out on to the busy street, let’s say “dressed” as sex worker, to a side walk filled with families enjoying a night out in the city! Adding to the oddity of it all were my friend’s kid’s toys, fruit roll up wrappers and shoes on the floor in the back of the car.

    The point? With all my experiences, many friends in the gay community and enjoying drag entertainment it took me a minute I wrap my brain around Drag Queen story telling.

    I hope we all agree we want to protect a child’s innocence and not burden them with the complexities of sexuality until it’s an appropriate time. I’m not sure when that is. But after some thought it was easy for me to separate sexuality from the performance art perspective and also the understanding of exposure leading to acceptance and inclusion especially for very young kids who probably still believe in Santa Clause and storks. Obviously it’s a parent’s choice and a library with parents in tow is a safe place.

    With regards to the board and Robert Nied, who I feel very strongly has become a scapegoat, none of this is solely Robert’s fault. Robert may have made mistakes but from my perspective he has had a lot of crap unfairly piled on him. He was the chair of a board, there were many emotions and influences to act on in a short amount of time. Right or wrong outcome it’s easy for me to see Robert and board members were thinking about protecting kids and getting ahead of potential public repercussions. The director quits and he takes the fallout and he quits all volunteer positions. Sometimes we step in dog —- it everything stinks.

    I know Robert fairly well I really like him. He’s as liberal minded if not more so than many of the people I see piling on. He has a very talented adult child he loves and supports wholeheartedly who has changed their gender identity. Many of his political views are different from mine we have had fun debates about the value of dodge ball I think more kids should get hit in the head with a ball it may wake them up he strongly disagrees! I respect him and his ideas very much. I know him to love his family, the earth and this town.

    It’s one thing for us to report and comment on news it’s another to scapegoat and dump all over someone with out really looking at the whole picture or knowing their back story which is why I shared my experiences in this letter. As a person often critical of others I have been told a 12 step recovery slogan many many many times when you point a finger at someone else Barre there are four fingers pointing back at you. The point is criticism of others is often a sign we are not looking at our own shortcomings. So much of our social media is steeped in finding fault with others and pontificating about what’s right but who’s really right? Jesus was hung on a cross, women thought to be Witches burned at the stake I know Robert he’s not the bad guy he’s been portrayed to be. There have been many emotional stresses in the world over the last half decade people are on edge and divided. We are a small community in rural Vermont let’s not fool ourselves we are probably not as comfortable with diversity, WOKE or really all that different from each other. Look around can we be any more average, white or straight? I believe we need to put in more effort into being the best community members we can be and support each other in tough situations especially when there is no crime, exploitation or intention to harm. I support Robert and his family I’m glad they are a part of our community.

  2. As a former trustee and chair of Whiting Library for many years I know how hard the staff works to provide programming to meet the needs of everyone in the community — all ages from tiny tots to seniors. Deirdre Doran, even after just 2 years as its director, truly had the measure of this community and library patrons. Sadly, the current board of trustees did not do their homework. No one seemed to know that programming was NOT their responsibility (see my letter to Editor). Since they could not take the time to read the Trustee Manual and learn what it means to be a trustee, I think its time for this board to resign enmasse. I don’t know the process or even if there is a process for installing a new board, but sadly the current board is no longer credible. Caretaker trustees should step in, and yes, Ms. Doran should be pleaded with to rescind her resignation. I daresay the town will look long and hard to replace her — if that’s possible. From the majority of comments thus far, it’s gratifying to see the overwhelming support for Deirdre. But one thing that’s not an option is the current board remaining in place. Apparently, they can’t read or they would have known they were entirely out of order! And by the way, Carrie King is a phenomenal Youth Librarian. Together these two women have brought Whiting Library to a level of excellence not many small town libraries have. We’re fortunate to have them.

  3. Don Dalton says:

    This is great!

    Can we have a Trump Supporters story hour? After all, they’re people too. We do want to be inclusive.

    How about a Gun Rights story hour? How about a Climate Skeptics story hour? You know, just to let kids know that these folks are real people. Inclusivity: we’re a rainbow! And, we are.

    Here’s what DQSH website says: “Drag Queen Story Hour is a fun and important program that celebrates diversity in the way that children may dress and act. It encourages children to look beyond gender stereotypes and embrace unfettered exploration of self. Programs like DQSH encourage acceptance of difference and help to prevent bullying, while providing an enjoyable literary experience.”

    Acceptance of difference! I’m so, so there. I have a cousin who’s a rabid Trump supporter and a professional storyteller (for children no less) and he may have an opening.

    We’re a rainbow! Right?? Or … not? Maybe they didn’t mean if we had different thoughts or political views. Maybe we can be diverse as we want to but when it comes to thinking, we’re all supposed to think like DQSH or those advocating for this. I guess I’m confused. We celebrate diversity and we highlight this but when it comes to different thoughts, we don’t seem to want to celebrate much of anything– except, of course, the views that agree with our own.

    So let’s have that Drag Queen Story Hour and schedule my redneck storyteller cousin, too. Let’s celebrate diversity!

  4. Kate Matracia says:

    Once again, I have to ask, has anyone actually looked at these performers’ website? Please look. The Drag Queen Story Hour tote bag offered for sale is right next to an enamel pin depicting a battered, filthy garbage dumpster with a woman’s face on it. The face has its tongue hanging out of its mouth with obvious fluids on it. The bottom of the pin has the words “Garbage Dumpster” on it. I resent anything that depicts women, drag queens, or anyone in the LGBTQ+ community as nothing more than a dirty fluid receptacle.

    Is this what you want children to see when they go looking for the tote bag on the performers’ website? How is such an image inclusive of diversity? It is an insult to diversity from the very website of the performers being hired to present a diverse image to children. From everything I have read about this brouhaha, it appears the Whiting Library trustees are not opposed to the story hour in any way. They are opposed to the lack of vetting of the presenters and the images presented on their website that children can see. It is the duty of the library director to use due diligence in vetting any performers hired to present anything to children. It appears that was not done in this case. Is the library director now embarrassed for not doing her job and, therefore, taking an offensive position as a defense?

    Please learn the facts of this ugly situation before spouting off about who is right or wrong. Also please remember that the Drag Queen Story Hour is NOT canceled, stifled, or trashed. It IS paused, with the possibility of going forward with presenters who are well-researched as safe for children to engage with.

  5. Donald Payne says:

    Having read your very informative report of the Drag Queen Story Hour affair, I heartily agree with those others who support the program and the librarian, and protest the actions of Mr. Nied. Yes, indeed, he should resign.

  6. Dan Tyrell says:

    I’ve seen calls for the Robert Nied and the Whiting Library Board of Trustees to formally apologize to the community. This is a fair request but what are they apologizing for? Are they apologizing because they realize they made a mistake? Or apologizing because they got caught doing wrong?

    Mr. Nied associated the Drag Queen Story Hour with himself, suggesting he would have to draft his letter of resignation if it was held at the Library. This he shared with a board member. Protecting his position at the Library was more important than following the Rules and Regulations he and the other board members established. This created the controversy and the resignation of a qualified Librarian. Only the Trustees are aware of what was talked about during the private Executive Sessions but in the end they all agreed publicly with accepting Deirdre Doran’s resignation.

    On another private Chester, Vermont FB board there is a recent apology to its members from Lee Gustafson, an Elected Official, for tying the performers of the Drag Queen Story Hour to the recent Green Mountain middle school teacher who was arrested for producing child porn. This apology came 5 days after his original postings but the damage caused by his words green-lighting the ensuing vitriol that followed had been accomplished. This apology came about because Gustafson’s posts were screen-shotted and shared to others outside the private FB Group. This is an apology from an Elected Official getting caught doing something wrong.

    Be it a screen shots or Public Records Act requests, Elected Officers need to be held accountable for their actions and words while they are holding office. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have an opinion but when their personal biases hinder their abilities to represent the entire community or worse stoke the hatred towards certain groups, then they have failed in their trusted position. Apologizes mean little when the damage is already done and almost impossible to repair.

    If these elected officials swore an oath to perform their jobs to the best of their ability then their abilities are lacking and the Chester Community suffers and deserves better.

    From what I have learned so far, the only way to replace Nied, the Trustees and Gustafson is for them to resign. Otherwise we are stuck with them until their terms end and then hopefully elect better quality to their positions.
    We can do better. We have to.

  7. Raymond Makul says:

    Congrats to Deirdre Doran for doing the right thing. The loss of employment is temporary, but the alternative, loss of self respect, stays with you your entire life.

  8. Joshua Carlisle says:

    I have but one problem with the drag queen library program and actually it’s not with the program itself it’s more the fact that different opinions seem to be smothered and personally i feel if this is supposed to be inclusive then that action is wrong. I sure hope that there is some age discretion when it comes to presentation of the program. I myself have fond memories of Whiting library from my childhood, but i fear just like our beloved GMUHS Chieftain that the library will be but a memory also not because of the drag queen program but because of people not being as inclusive as they claim to be.

  9. I agree wholeheartedly with everyone’s comments as stated above. It is time for homosapien inclusion. We are all the same genomes 99.9% the same genetic makeup. Our gene combinations make us who we are. All of us, not just the children need to accept each person as they are. Who they like, how they dress should make no difference to anyone. We all need connection, what works for me may not work for you. What went on at the Whiting Library should not be tolerated. Mr. Nied your beliefs are a disservice to the library and Chester community, yes get your letter of resignation out of the draft stage and send in your final version.

  10. Susan Bailey says:

    Evident of Nied’s initial text message above, it would appear the library did not provide service based on LGBTQ prejudices. If so, someone who is LGBTQ and was denied service may want to consider filing a complaint. https://hrc.vermont.gov/complaint If I was the librarian, I definitely would be consulting an attorney who specializes in employment law. In my opinion, Nied should resign immediately. Good job for your investigative reporting, Chester Telegraph!

  11. Matthew Gorsky says:

    “That contact was a text from Nied to vice chair Rosamund Conroy: “So Deirdre just posted on Facebook that the library would be hosting a drag queen story hour. I can only imagine the comments to follow. Should I start drafting my resignation letter?” ” – above article

    Yes Mr Nied, I think you should. You have shown an obvious and deliberate overstep of Board purview and powers. You, not any other member of the Board, you have lost us a competent and loved librarian. If there was a method to recall or impeach you from your position there are numerous citizens who would start that process after this.

  12. Sarah Rusch says:

    It is so disheartening that we have a board that doesn’t see the value in diverse programming. The library should be an inclusive place, and the library staff obviously strive to achieve that. Mr. Nied is clearly more concerned with his own reputation and security on the board than he is about the well-being of the library. We lost an amazing librarian because Mr. Nied and the board were worried about having to deal with backlash over programming. The board should have let the qualified librarian and her staff do their jobs, and perform the programming they selected. Mr. Nied should be removed from the board immediately.

  13. Patrick Spurlock says:

    Chester apparently needs to remove Mr. Nied from this board promptly. With everything going on in this community, Nied is definitely standing out as a problem.