The Houston Public Library has canceled a controversial reading program after a man who was charged with sexually assaulting a child was allowed to read to children last year.
Drag Queen Story Time was launched in Houston by Trent Lira and Devin Will in 2017. The program featured popular local drag queens and kings who read to children as young as 2 years old.
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The Freed-Montrose Library staff acknowledged they did not conduct a background check on Albert Alfonso Garza, 32, who was among the drag queens and kings reading to children during a Drag Queen Story Time event in September 2018.
Garza's criminal history came to light after ABC13 Eyewitness News learned that Garza was charged with child sex assault in 2008.
According to records obtained by ABC13, Garza's victim was an 8-year-old boy.
In a letter published on Tuesday, Lira and Will said they were "shocked and disappointed" when they discovered that one of the drag queen volunteers was a convicted sex offender.
"We had insisted and insisted that what we were doing was safe for children, and yet here was a performer who had been charged with sexual assault of a minor," they wrote in the letter.
Lira and Will said they were unaware of Garza's criminal background, but that it would have come to light if the library had followed its own policy of conducting background checks on all participants.
When Lira and Will spoke with Garza in October, he confirmed he had been convicted in 2009.
"It was devastating," they wrote.
They added that, since October, everyone who has participated in the program - including themselves - have undergone background checks that came back clean.
The Houston Public Library continued its support of the program. But after the public backlash over Garza's participation, the library staff decided it was best to end the program in the foreseeable future.
Lira and Will said the program was designed to teach children to be tolerant of others.
"People are being threatened. People are being hurt," they said.
"We believe in what we're doing, but we don't believe in putting our friends, our families, or our children in danger," they concluded.