• Video: Free Speech Union asks Hastings District Council why it cancelled Drag Queen event, warns that legal action could follow

Video: Free Speech Union asks Hastings District Council why it cancelled Drag Queen event, warns that legal action could follow

The Hastings District Council has been asked by the Free Speech Union to explain why it cancelled a controversial Drag Queen rainbow story time event at the local library, and warned that legal action may follow.

The Union’s Chief Executive Jonathan Ayling told Hawke’s Bay App last week that his organisation had written to the Council and to police asking for an explanation as to why the event was cancelled.

Hastings District Council announced on Tuesday that disinformation being spread about an upcoming library programme had forced it to cancel the children’s story time event, and a teen event, due to concerns the young attendees cannot be kept safe.

The Taranaki-based drag queen entertainers Coco (Sunita Torrance) and Erika Flash (Daniel Lockett) travel the country visiting libraries and other spaces to share messages of acceptance, inclusion, tolerance and self-belief and have previously brought their events to Hastings Library, in August 2020 and again in 2022.

The same event in Rotorua was cancelled last week, with the local council citing security concerns amid "hostile dialogue" and "rapid spread of misinformation".

"While the programmes have run in previous years with no issues, this year Destiny Church has led a campaign of disinformation about the programmes, and Council is concerned about public safety in light of planned protests," Hastings District Council said in a statement on Tuesday.

A Love And Peace Action Event organised by Nevertheless Charitable Trust was held by those for Rainbow Storytime.

Local Destiny Church Pastor Michael Ngahuka said before the event was cancelled that his Church wanted the story time shut down.

Ayling said in an interview with Hawke’s Bay App that they had contacted the Council and the police about the matter.

“Our actions, and specifically, legal actions following on from this, will entirely depend on the responses we receive there. So we're not committing to legal action at this stage by any means. But like with Rotorua, we have contacted them and said that this is the wrong decision to make and that councils need to really be mindful of the fact that individuals have a right to express controversial perspectives.”

“Now, some of your listeners may argue that this goes beyond speech, that this isn't a free speech issue. Look, I would ask them to substantiate that. And if that is the case, if there's clear already unlawful activity occurring, then that's a different issue. Again, as I've said, we have a right to free speech. We have a right to our beliefs. We don't have a right to act however we want.”

Ayling said that both sides needed to respect the fact that “individuals gets to engage from their perspectives and make the case”.

“And if it's a weak case, we don't need to be afraid of it being expressed. I think there's a real pathologising, there's a real creating of a disease around bad ideas being expressed. It has a very low opinion of our fellow citizens. I actually think if there are bad ideas that are out there, let them be expressed. And by and by, we largely see them to be bad ideas and then we grow because of that.”

Ayling said: “What we also say to the council is the council has a responsibility to be the grown-up in the room. And spiritless, health and safety claims are not the way to go.”

A Hastings District Council spokesperson confirmed that the Council had received a Council can confirm it has received a LGOIMA (Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act) request from the Free Speech Union asking for the reasoning behind cancelling the Erika and CoCo Flash Rainbow Story time event at Hastings library.

The spokesperson said that the Council would be responding to the LGOIMA request.

Watch the accompanying video to see the full interview with Jonathan Ayling, in which he explains the importance of freedom of speech.