Leander Public Library director loses job for hosting Pride events


Priscilla Donovan will serve her last day as director of the Leander Public Library on Nov. 1. She has been director of the library in Leander, a suburb just north of Austin, since 2007.

Library Systems & Services, a third-party company the city of Leander contracts with to operate its library, announced Donovan’s departure Oct. 25.

The Leander library has been under the spotlight this year ever since a drag queen story time  — a May event shepherded by the library itself — was cancelled due to protests.

Donovan has reportedly declined to comment publicly about her ouster until she speaks with her attorney. 

After the cancellation in May of Drag Queen Story Hour, the library’s annual Pride Storytime (normally held in June to dovetail with Pride Month) was also cancelled. That prompted the Open Cathedral Church of Leander to rent space at the library to host the their own event, the Leander Family Pride Festival and Story Time on June 15. Officials closed the rest of the library that day due to safety concerns. A crowd of approximately 100 protesters showed up including Cedar Park City Council Members Dorian Chavez, Tim Kelly and Rodney Robinson, the Austin Chronicle reported. LGBTQ activists and allies counter-protested.

Started in 2015 in San Francisco, Drag Queen Story Hour is now a national happening, with self-organized chapters in many states presenting events at libraries, schools, summer camps, after-school programs and other community spaces.

Not surprisingly, drag storytimes around the country have attracted the attention of conservative groups and media including the Daily Wire who decried using public resources to fund the readings of “feminist-inspired fairly tales to young children.”

In Leander, popular comic author Lilah Sturges, who is transgender, was scheduled to meet with the library’s youth graphic novel club to present her book “Lumberjanes: The Infernal Compass.” However hours before her event, Sturges received an email telling her the event had been canceled.

On Twitter, Sturges said, “The reason finally given was that I did not have a background check in place. I was never asked to perform a background check for the event. Further, I’ve spoken at schools, bookstores, and libraries across the country and have never once been asked for a background check.”

Then in August, the Leander City Council voted to end all private rentals of the library’s two meeting rooms and also to require background checks for any non-staff presenters or performers involved with programming for children 17 and younger.

The move drew criticism from state and national organizations including the Texas Library Association, the American Library Association and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

Interestingly, the Leander library held its Pride Storyhour, rescheduled from May, on Oct. 12. A “storytime about love, understanding, and acceptance,” the event that attracted no protests, according to the Hill Country News.

Leander isn’t the only Texas city to see its Pride events curtailed. In March, Houston Public Library decided to discontinue its drag storytimes after performers and library staff were targets of aggressive protesting. Houston Public Library has been hosting the events since 2017.

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is an arts and culture journalist who has covered visual art, performance, film, literature, architecture, and just about any combination thereof. She was the staff arts critic for the Austin American-Statesman for 17 years. Her commendations include the First Place Arts & Culture Criticism Award from the Society for Features Journalism. Additionally, Jeanne Claire has been awarded professional fellowships at USC’s Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and NEA/Columbia University Arts Journalism Institute. In 2022, she was awarded the Rabkin Prize in visual art journalism. Jeanne Claire founded and led Sightlines, a non-profit online arts and culture magazine that reached an annual readership of 600,000. And for two years, she taught arts journalism at the University of Texas College of Fine Arts. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Architecture magazine, Dwell, the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Art Papers, and ICON design magazine, among other publications.

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