MONTREAL — A Montreal borough that faced accusations of homophobia after it cancelled a children's storytime event hosted by a well-known drag queen has reversed its decision.
St-Laurent borough Mayor Alan DeSousa said officials met on Monday with Sébastien Potvin, who performs as Barbada de Barbades, and approved story-reading events at two libraries on Nov. 5, as originally scheduled.
"There was no concern, but a desire to know how the event would proceed and how Barbada would handle people aged three to eight years old," DeSousa said in an interview Tuesday, confirming that Potvin's event will be part of the borough's fall program of cultural and library activities.
The borough pulled the plug on Potvin's storytime last month, offering no explanation. The move prompted a Montreal resident to launch an online petition under the heading, "Fighting homophobia," which collected about 700 signatures.
Potvin, however, said in an interview Tuesday he doesn't feel the original decision was homophobic but rather impulsive, stemming from a lack of information surrounding his storytime event.
"Apologies were not needed," Potvin said. "But some context was required … it would have been easier to postpone than to cancel."
Potvin welcomed the borough's initiative to sit down with him. It gave him a chance to explain what stories would be read and what potentially sensitive topics would be addressed during the one-hour event.
"People think that once I arrive, I start to read and that's it, but that's not the case," Potvin said. "There's a great conversation at the beginning about drag … I choose the books from the librarians' selection … all the stories are 100 per cent for children."
Potvin has been hosting storytime events, which he said encourage literacy and promote diversity, since 2016. He also appears as Barbada on the reality competition show "Call Me Mother,'' on OUTtv, and hosts the children's show "Barbada'' on Radio-Canada's streaming service ICI Tou.tv.
He said the St-Laurent borough council's concerns were those of parents who wanted to better understand the drag queen storytelling activity.
"We imagine that politicians are from another world, but in reality, they are mothers and fathers," Potvin said, adding that nobody asked him to censor the content of the event.
He added: "I don't know how many times I repeated this sentence throughout my career … to take the time to discuss, talk to understand and to find a deal, or not, because we are not obligated to always agree, but at least we respect each other."
The announcement last month of the St-Laurent cancellation came after another of his library storytime events, in the Montreal suburb of Dorval, was the subject of complaints and went ahead with police presence in June.
DeSousa rejected accusations that homophobia played a part in the council's initial decision. He said it was just a matter of taking the proper precautions.
"We wanted to avoid for things to degenerate as seen elsewhere, or that hate messages would be spread," DeSousa said. "I hope nobody is going to blame us for wanting to take the necessary time to do things well."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Aug. 2, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press