February 28, 2018

In Iowa, homophobes are railing against their library’s LGBTQ books


Not great news out of Iowa: as we wrote this weekend, local homophobes have circulated a petition to separate LGBTQ books in the public libraries of Orange City, receiving more than 300 signatures last week.

As Mike Kilen writes at the Des Moines Register, the controversy started when an anonymous person complained about a book featuring LGBTQ content — a complaint which was revoked after the person realized they had ignited an issue. But it was too late; the Sioux County Conservatives, formed in 2015, took the lead on the petition, which was distributed across Orange City. The flyers claim that Orange City’s “focus on Christian faith, family values, and unabashed pride in them are refreshing changes from the ever-retreating spheres of influence of Christianity in larger communities.” (There’s nothing new in the flyer, its stench stale and familiar, but if you’re curious you can read it here.)

Jacob Hall, a spokesperson for the group,told Kilen these books “are targeting pre-K children to promote a behavior that is harmful to human beings. It is clear there is an agenda there.” To combat this agenda, the group is proposing that books on LGBTQ themes “be labeled and separated from other content and to halt acquisitions of the material until ‘a public discussion can be held about the acquisition so valuable feedback can be given by important stakeholders such as parents, teachers, and faith communities.’”

Using Christianity as their excuse, the backers of this petition are effectively advocating for the segregation of LGBTQ books; it doesn’t seem to huge a stretch to imagine that they would happily segregate LGBTQ people, too.

Amanda Vazquez, the library’s director, has defended her right to shelve these books exactly where they are: “As a public library, we try to serve the needs of a diverse community.” She refers to the official library collections policies, which state, “The library recognizes that any given item may offend any one person, but because the library follows accepted principles of intellectual freedom, it will not remove specific titles solely because individuals or groups may find them objectionable.”

The fierce debate over whether or not the books should be separated came to a head at the library’s Board of Trustees meeting last Tuesday. In what sounds like a scene from Parks & Recreation, some people read anti-gay passages from the Bible, while others stated they were offended by much in the library but wouldn’t dream of telling others not to read those books. Others defended the idea of libraries as bastions of diversity. No action has so far been taken in response to the discussion.

There’s another problem that, if anyone raised it, Kilen doesn’t mention: the library should probably be working to increase the rate at which it’s acquiring books on LGBTQ themes: out of 64,000 materials, there are only 168 LGBTQ books.

Homophobes can hide behind their religion, their “concern” for the children, or their anger at a liberal agend all they want. In truth, they’re just closed-minded, hateful, and dangerous.

But guess what! After generations of fighting for their rights, LGBTQ people have claimed a rightful place in the American mainstream. We can’t go backwards now, and neither can our books.



Stephanie DeLuca is the director of publicity at Melville House.