Miss Amie Vanité defies possibly deadly right-wing tide in Lancaster

Miss Amie Vanité reads a book during a drag queen storytime.
Miss Amie Vanité. (Photo: Courtesy of Christopher Paolini)

“I was trying to keep a cool head, but after the evacuation, I started to get worried. I remembered: they know where my family lives.”

This was the thought going through drag performer Miss Amie Vanité’s mind as she and others were being evacuated from the Lancaster Public Library. It was a bomb threat, and the police dogs had sniffed out a suspicious package in the library. And it has not been the last.

Vanité (née Christopher Paolini) had been scheduled to perform a Drag Queen Story Hour at the Lancaster Public Library on March 23. When word of the event got out, local anti-LGBTQ+ groups mobilized in force. They organized a social media campaign, focusing on the usual right-wing talking points and tactics, bemoaning the use of taxpayer dollars to promote “pornography” (the Story Hour was actually privately funded), protecting children from what they see as the sexualizing influence of drag in general, and Vanité in particular. They also published the home addresses of library staff, Vanité and their families—with the threat that implied.

Initially, Vanité didn’t give the conservative blowback much thought. She had been performing Story Hours in the Lancaster area since 2018, and in that time had faced numerous conservative religious protests, but had never felt herself to be in actual danger.

“[It’s] just a few people making noise,” Vanité said. “And all this talk about me being a danger to kids—well, my clearances are pristine.”

But the sense of danger got very real at noon on March 23 as she and the library staff were being evacuated. While the bomb threat proved a bust (the “suspicious package” was actually a forgotten delivery of library materials), the repercussions of the event have continued to resonate.

In fact, there has been a subsequent second bomb threat targeted specifically at other LGBTQ-friendly venues in the area. According to Vanité, “There was another bomb threat on April 27 at the one church [the site of the rescheduled Story Hour] and a few other places in Mountville. This time, the threat named me with a house address—wasn’t my address, I’m not sure whose it is. But the point is that the police have my contact info and no one even bothered to call me to let me know I was named in the threat.”

Now a sense of fear is permeating Lancaster and its surrounding small town municipalities. It didn’t take long for that fear to have an impact on Vanité’s career. While the March 23 Story Hour was rescheduled in April at a church in nearby York, Vanité admitted, “I lost three other gigs in under a month.”

Those venues cited safety concerns as the reason for the cancellations. 

“We would meet with these people and explain the various security measures we’ve put in place to deal with possible problems or threats, but nothing was enough for them,” Vanité said. “Too much hassle, they said.”

A search is now underway for new venues for future Story Hours. But until that search bears fruit, there will apparently be no Drag Queen Story Hour events in the Lancaster area.

The Lancaster Library has also faced repercussions. Using the bomb threat as an excuse, area municipalities have expressed their intention to withdraw their financial support for the library unless it agrees to never again host Drag Queen Story Hours at their facility. Library administrators agreed that the Story Hours should be put on hold temporarily until the current climate cools down, but they were unwilling to agree to a permanent ban, even at the risk of being defunded.

Fortunately, Story Hours are not the only thing Vanité does. She also has several performances scheduled for various Pride events in the area later this summer. 

“At least the Pride gigs are still on,” she said.

Unsurprisingly, the current tumult has also brought forth an outpouring of support from residents who oppose the rising tide of anti-LGBTQ+ activism. 

“The amount of support here has been wonderful,” Vanité said.

She also noted the right wing’s ultimate goal. 

“They’re using fear to try to drive us back in the closet,” she said. “It’s not going to work. I’m not going to stop doing this. I absolutely love what I do, teaching children literacy and compassion and appreciation for diversity. It’s very important work.”

In true Stonewall-esque drag queen fashion, Vanité has a simple response to right-wing efforts to silence her and her work: “Let ‘em try.”

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