The Houston Public Library admitted Friday that one of its “Drag Queen Storytime” storytellers was a registered child sex offender. The library said in a statement it “failed to complete a background check as required,” leading to a man posing as a drag queen.
“In our review of our process and of this participant, we discovered that we failed to complete a background check as required by our own guidelines,” the library stated. “We deeply regret this oversight and the concern this may cause our customers. We realize this is a serious matter.”
A spokesperson for the library said that Alberto Garza, 32, has posed as drag queen Tatiana Mala Nina, but was first uncovered by Mass Resistance, a Houstonian group that pledged to end the drag queen reading program.
KHOU, the CBS affiliate in Houston, first reported the Mass Resistance revelation on Friday after the group reported a sex offender had disguised himself and read to children.
“Most parents would not allow that individual to sit in this library and be held up as a role model to our children. Shame on you, Mayor (Sylvester) Turner!” said Mass Resistance member Tracy Shannon.
KHOU reported that Garza assaulted an 8-year-old boy in 2008, and that the library reportedly didn’t perform background checks on the queens of the somewhat popular reading program in Houston, which is the fourth-largest populated city in the country.
The Drag Queen Storytime program is an offshoot of a nationwide initiative called “Drag Queen Story Hour” that is supposed to open children’s eyes to “unabashedly queer role models,” according to its website.
When the program began in Houston during the summer of 2018, some parents thought it was a good idea to expose their children to aspects of life they wouldn’t typically see around their homes, like the ones in this news clip from July 2018.
The goodwill gesture didn’t sit well, though, with parents whose children could have sat in on these story hours. Though they claimed they had nothing against the LGBTQ community, they wanted better, if any, background checks on the very people who would be trusted near the community’s children.
“If they had done their job and due diligence, if they had said wait…maybe it’s not a good idea to have a sex offender who at 200 pounds and 5-foot-11 assaulted an 8-year-old boy,” Shannon said.
And though opponents of the program tried to stop it via lawsuit, a judge dismissed it two months ago.
Mass Resistance proponents argued that having entertainers isn’t the correct way to promote literacy, but argued more intensely sex offenders shouldn’t even be in the picture at all.
“We may not all agree that having adult entertainers is the right way to entertain young children or promote literacy and adversity and acceptance and inclusion,” Shannon said. “We can all agree that it’s inappropriate to have a sex offender. And for someone to not do their due diligence, to have a sex offender entertaining children at the library.”
The Houston Public Library admitted regret in hiring Garza, and that it pledged to due better diligence moving forward in its hiring practices. Here’s what the city library said:
“We assure you that this participant will not be involved in any future HPL programs.
“In our review of our process and of this participant, we discovered that we failed to complete a background check as required by our own guidelines. We deeply regret this oversight and the concern this may cause our customers. We realize this is a serious matter.
“Every program sponsored by HPL is supervised by HPL staff, and all children are accompanied by a parent and/or guardian. No participant is ever alone with children, and we have not received any complaints about any inappropriate behavior by participants at storytimes.
“We are taking the appropriate action to ensure that the status of every participant in every program throughout our system is verified. We will continue to review our process to ensure that this cannot happen again.
“Once again, we apologize for our failure to adhere to our own process in this matter and to the hundreds of parents and caregivers who have enjoyed this program with their children.”