The relocation of a recent Pride Month LGBTQ book display to a Bedford County library prompted several residents to speak at a County Board of Supervisors meeting this week, with several expressing their support for the library display and one saying the display should have been moved or removed.
When Pride Month — a federally designated time for LGBTQ awareness and activism — kicked off in June, Bedford County Public Libraries, like other public library systems, added themed exhibits offering resources related to the LGBTQ+ community and books with representation of this community.
Before long, the Forest Library branch was targeted by a small number of individuals, some affiliated with a local group that wanted to remove or move LGBTQ materials. Other Bedford Public Library branches had Pride Month displays, BPLS board chair Debbie Bahouth said in an interview with The News & Advance, but the Forest location was the one which has been criticized.
As Pride Month progressed, some opposed to Pride Month and the display of LGBTQ resources in public libraries campaigned to remove books they deemed inappropriate or problematic. One encouraged course of action was for someone to check out all LGBTQ-related books and materials in their local public libraries with the intent of not returning them.
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Those who oppose the Pride Month displays have also lobbied for them to be moved to an inconspicuous section of a library, or called for the displays to be removed altogether.
Bahouth said Forest library workers received verbal comments and emails that led to feelings of insecurity. Out of concern for the safety of library workers, Bahouth said, the decision was made to move the display from the library’s traditional display location. At the forest location, the displays are set up opposite the office towards the main entrance to the library, visible to those entering.
Bahouth confirmed that all of the LGBTQ books on display at Forest’s library were checked out by one person and had not been returned for some time. The books eventually came back, but they had all been put on hold, so they were immediately checked again and remain unavailable.
Never, to Bahouth’s knowledge, has any of the Bedford Public Libraries had to move a display rack out of concern for the safety of library employees or been confronted with individuals removing specific materials of this nature. Council and library staff, she said, were appalled by the aggressive response from what she said was a small group of people.
“We want to continue to provide information to the whole community, as diverse and inclusive as possible,” Bahouth said. “We’ve always had a variety of subjects with the display areas. We do not censor or show bias for anything. That’s not our goal; these are not the individual opinions of anyone, as far as staff is concerned, on what should or should not be posted. It’s a service to the whole community, and that’s what we strive to maintain.
At the Bedford County Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday, county resident Donna StClair said taking books from public libraries and not returning them was “a pending trial” because those books are a publicly owned, funded by taxpayers’ money.
Jessica Scott, another county resident, said she supports special observance displays at all branches of the Bedford Public Library. Libraries have traditionally set up exhibits for federally recognized holidays or awareness initiatives, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, or disability awareness.
“According to the Bedford County Public Library website, the purpose of exhibits or exhibits is to provide educational, cultural, informative and engaging exhibits to the public,” Scott said, citing the online resource. According to the same website, she added, “Postings must meet a standard acceptable to the community. An 8.5 by 11 piece of paper with the word “pride” printed in rainbow colors and then just a handful of library books would most certainly meet that standard. Hiding displays is not educational. It is neither cultural nor informative.
Concerns about actions to remove or obscure LGBTQ+ material went beyond the issue of censorship itself. Speakers expressed dismay at what such actions meant for a space that was supposed to be inclusive, safe and informative for all.
Elizabeth Mansel, a former special education teacher who also spoke at the meeting, said targeting a minority group — the LGBTQ community in this case — was a “slippery slope” to targeting even more groups, such as people of color, people with disabilities, or those who do not practice a Christian religion, as if such treatment were acceptable.
As a parent, Mansel said she understands the desire to protect children and recognizes that some topics can be uncomfortable for adults, but she said the actions of those working to remove or censor queer resources teach children that LGBTQ topics were off limits. , period. Lines of communication must be kept open between young people and trusted adults, she said, and anything else only serves to push young people to seek answers elsewhere.
“Each family is responsible for determining what their children will be exposed to, but it is the responsibility of the public library system to provide a safe and inclusive framework to support all citizens,” Mansel said. “As civil servants, your [the board of supervisors’] obligation is to ensure that all citizens, including minorities, are equally represented and that no group is considered to be of lesser value.
Citing parts of ALA policy, as well as the Library Bill of Rights, a document derived from the US Constitution, speaker Cindy Younghouse said that library exhibits should be fair and that librarians need to support to follow ALA policy.
ALA Policy 53.1.15 states, “The American Library Association strictly and unequivocally maintains that libraries and librarians have an obligation to resist efforts that systematically exclude materials on any subject, including gender or sexual orientation The Association also encourages librarians to proactively support the First Amendment rights of all library users, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
Mary Katherine Bennett spoke to supervisors at a June 13 meeting about Pride month postings at some public libraries, saying she wanted to bring the issue to the board’s attention, citing the need to “protect children “.
Bennett, who also attended Monday’s meeting, defended his position.
‘I’m not a hate person,’ Bennett said after saying she was part of a local group that another speaker identified as a ‘religious extremist hate group’, referring to the Bedford County Patriots. .
She said she just wanted the kids to be protected and wondered why others seemed to have a problem with it.
Bennett said she and others asked librarians at the Forest location, through emails, phone calls and in-person conversations, to move or remove the Pride Month display.
In an emailed statement Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Bedford County Patriots responded to the incident discussed at Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, saying, “Affected members of the Bedford community have been informed of the sexually explicit material displayed in front of the children’s section at Forest Public Library. Our community has come together and respectfully requested that all sex books be removed from the children’s section. We are grateful that Forest Public Library staff have listened to our community and moved sexualized books to the adult section.
Bahouth said the exhibit was not in the children’s section of the forest library, but in the same location that has been used for exhibits for as long as can be remembered, a place used extensively. partly due to the layout and space of the building.
James Jones, a 35-year-old volunteer with Friends of Bedford County Public Libraries, told the supervisors’ meeting that libraries are “the most democratic of institutions”. He was troubled by the harassment and threats faced by public libraries in his community from local groups and individuals. Such censorship, he said, has no place in a pluralistic society, and “any group that does not like the selections of books presented has no right to withhold those books from the rest of the community”.
“Tolerance towards others is a sign of a healthy community,” Jones said. “We all need to support our library system and the professional librarians who work within it. Let them do their work unhindered by the condemnation of a few. May our libraries continue to serve us all.