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S.C. librarian sues over Drag Queen Story Hour firing

Jonathan Newton alleges he was wrongfully terminated after political opposition to the story hour grew.

After a group named Mom’s Liberal Happy Hour sent a Facebook invitation for a Drag Queen Story Hour on Feb. 17 at a public library in South Carolina, 1,500 people said they were interested.

But a petition opposing the event spread across the county and garnered over 5,000 signatures.

Now, a librarian at the Five Forks Branch, Jonathan Newton, says in a lawsuit filed Monday that he was wrongfully terminated after 17 years because he facilitated the group's request to host the event.

Newton alleges that his Greenville County Library System supervisor, Beverly James, expressed opposition to the event, at which drag queens read to children, and, in forcing him out, bowed to political pressure from leaders in Greenville County.

Eleven days before the story hour was set to take place, the chairman of the County Council, Butch Kirven, told The Greenville News that if he had the power, the event "would be shut down immediately,” according to the lawsuit.

The library in Simpsonville, South Carolina, tussled with its library system over a technical violation, because free tickets were issued for the event as a crowd control measure. The issuance of tickets — done at the direction of the sheriff following death threats to library staffers — briefly caused the event to be canceled.

In the end, it did take place, though alongside protesters and counter-protesters outside and with police a presence throughout. Police reportedly prevented a Greenville News reporter from covering the event.

The Greenville County Library System did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment.

The lawsuit requests that Newton be “justly compensated for his wrongful termination” and includes a statement of hope that the situation will “inform the people of Greenville County about the quiet heroics of a simple librarian.”

The suit cites the American Library Association’s code of ethics that libraries should make facilities available to the public “on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.”

Just a week before he says he was forced to resign, Newton was named the recipient of the American Library Association's 2020 Gordon M. Conable Award, which “honors a public library staff member, a library trustee, or a public library that has demonstrated a commitment to intellectual freedom and the Library Bill of Rights.”

The ALA said Newton was chosen because he “upheld the decision to allow a community group to book meeting space in the library to host a Drag Queen Story Hour despite backlash from members of the public.”

Across the country in 2020, Republican lawmakers have moved to ban Drag Queen Story Hour events.

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