A nonprofit health system that serves many HIV positive clients denounced Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder on Wednesday for his criticism of gay pride events at public libraries in central Ohio.

Equitas Health Director Julia Applegate said in a prepared statement that Householder used his position to "kick off LGBTQ+ Pride Month by stirring up hate across Ohio." Equality Ohio joined Equitas in its statement, noting Wednesday afternoon on Twitter that 500 people had sent Householder a letter with the same sentiment.

Householder, a Glenford Republican, wrote in a letter last week to the Ohio Library Council that he thought it was a joke when he heard that central Ohio libraries were hosting drag queen educational programming for teens. A June 7 event at the Licking County Library in Newark was to include a tutorial for drag queen makeup, but it was canceled.

The Delaware County Library canceled its "Drag 101" class, which was to focus on theatrical elements of the art form, that had been scheduled for June 5.

"Our libraries are an incubator for thought and ideas, for debate and discussion. On this point, we all can agree. But I can also assure you the taxpayers aren't interested in seeing their hard-earned dollars being used to teach teenage boys how to become drag queens. I expect this to end immediately," Householder wrote in his letter.

On its website, Equality says, "We do not apologize for drag. We celebrate it. We’re in a drag renaissance. Ohio has some of the nation’s best and most charitable performers. Exposing youth to drag is not 'sexualizing' them. Drag is an art form."

On Saturday, a group of eight House Democrats from Franklin County issued a joint statement, calling Householder's comments "unfortunate."

Applegate wrote in her statement that Equitas has trained library staff "in creating affirming environments for LGBTQ+ patrons and has held public forums about LGTBQ+ health equity at libraries around the state." She offered the same training for Householder and members of the Ohio General Assembly.

"The use of fear-based divisive tactics by an elected official is a stunning example of why we need public libraries to function as independent centers of public education and discussion," she wrote.

Citizens for Community Values President Aaron Baer fired back at Equitas on Twitter, saying: "Not wanting drag to be taught to kids is not the same as being against the safety of LGBT people. Stop the hyperbole."

 

Reach Rick Rouan at rrouan@dispatch.com or on Twitter @RickRouan.