“We don’t put up with bullying,” was one of the first public comments at the December North Penn School Board (NPSB) Action Meeting. The remark was one of many in support of Eric Torres, a local resident and employee of the district.
The statement didn’t come from out of the blue, it came in response to commentary from the November NPSB Action Meeting and caused Lansdale Mayor Garry Herbert to devote his weekly column to what he calls “otherism.”
November’s meeting began with two Pennfield students providing the Board with an update about two programs: Where Everyone Belongs (WEB), and No Place for Hate, a national program that supports schools in their commitment to celebrating diversity.
Their message was lost on Rosanne Gadd, a resident of the North Penn district who, during the Audience of Citizens portion of the meeting, shared her comments. “There are two things that we should never speak about, politics and religion, so we are going to dive into both,” she said.
Gadd then asked several rhetorical questions regarding the district’s hiring policies before revealing her true intent.
“You did post a new hire for a 7th grade technology assistant who dressed as a drag queen, named Annie Christ, at Lansdale Library and read Sparkle Boy and Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, both very inappropriate books for kids. Red flag,” she said.
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Gadd then asked “Why is a drag queen so excited to perform in front of children? The group Gays Against Groomers do not approve of this kind of behavior in front of children.”
“Let me be very clear; I do not care that he is a drag queen. I care that he is around children reading pornographic books,” Gadd said.
For the record, neither of the two books Gadd mentioned are remotely pornographic. The group Gays Against Groomers, however, has been banned from multiple platforms including Google, PayPal and Venmo due to enabling anti-transgender hate and targeting the LGBTQ+ community.
“Attacks on Local Drag Queen’s Employment Another Example of ‘Otherism’ was the title to Herbert’s weekly column Mayoral Musings, that appears in North Penn Now.
“Otherizing alienates and secludes people so that it is easier to blame them for all the wrongs in the world. Otherizing breeds violence and lays the ground for prolonged hate toward individuals and groups,” Herbert wrote. “There is no place for otherizing in Lansdale and I will vocally call it out each time it occurs.”
In February of 2019, Eric Torres, aka Annie Christ, hosted a children’s story hour at Lansdale Library. It was the area’s first drag queen story hour.
The event drew applause and animosity.
In opposition was the American Pastors Network, who organized a protest saying the event was a “perversion from the nightclubs and sexually charged pride parades,” reported Justin Heinze of the Lansdale Patch. According to Right Wing Watch, the Chester County based right-wing conspiracy theory group denounces undocumented immigrants claiming they are the enemies of America, and also asserts Covid-19 to be judgment for “disobeying God on Israel and moral law.”
Supporting the story hour were three local groups: Rise Up Doylestown, the Montgomery County LGBT Business Council, and SAGA Community Center who formed a “circle of love” around the library’s entrance.
Undeterred by the controversy, Torres put a positive spin on the event by combining the story hour with a food drive. He asked that all attendees bring a donation and hundreds of pounds of food were collected for those in need.
“At school, in life, people might be mean to you because you’re a little bit different, but they’re not bad people. The best thing to do is to be really, really nice to them,” Annie Christ told the audience during the story hour.
Jonathan Kassa, who sits as a director on the North Penn School Board, listened during December’s public comment when Torres spoke and as community members, one after another, talked about Eric’s many contributions to the community.
“It was great for Eric to speak for himself,” Kassa said. “It was amazing because it takes down that third wall so that people are able to connect with each other.”
Kassa referenced North Penn’s amazing diversity of people. “Knapp Elementary, when my kids were there, had something like 27 different languages,” he said.
If the outpouring of support for Torres from parents, students and residents at the meeting is any indication of the community’s personality, it would be very difficult to believe it to be anything less than welcoming and inclusive.
Herbert was asked how his Mayoral Musing about “otherism” might impact the community.
“What it will do is remind them that every time they speak out like this, every time they raise hateful language in a public setting, there will be someone that stands up with the light and says I’m here to meet your darkness,” he said.