Calls for anti-LGBTQ+ protests backfire

A crowded room full of demonstrators. A person in the front gestures, talking with their hands. A sign in the back reads, "MY BOOKS / MY CHOICE". Below each "MY" is the transgender flag. The bubble letters are in blue and pink, like the flag.
An individual speaks before the library board. Photo by Dani Kington.

NELSONVILLE, Ohio — Calls to protest library LGBTQ+ Pride displays and holdings instead prompted a 100-strong crowd supportive of the displays and library materials to show up to the July board meetings of the Athens County Public Libraries and Nelsonville-York City School District.

Around 80 people crammed into the Nelsonville Public Library, at 95 W. Washington St., on July 19, with a crowd of about 30 others assembled outside. Fourteen people spoke during the meeting’s public comment period — all in support of LGBTQ+ rights and current library practices. Many others held signs or Pride flags to signal their support for the same.

“LGBTQ+ individuals are our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers and service providers,” said local resident Susan Westenbarger at the meeting. “They deserve to occupy space in the libraries just like anyone else, and they deserve to have their presence acknowledged.”

Letters published in the Athens News between June 15 and July 18 called for protests at the libraries.

Some letters claimed pride displays pushed “the trans lifestyle on our kids and communities,” caused “traditional families” to feel uncomfortable and/or advanced the “radical agenda of the left.” One described a young adult graphic novel about the author’s journey with queer gender and sexuality as “gross and vulgar,” while another joined its call to ban such holdings. Yet another described library sessions of the popular role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons as “anti-religious meetings.” 

These letters prompted twice as many defending the libraries, library holdings and pride displays.

Nelsonville reflects the nation

Library Director Nick Tepe told the Independent that as the letters trickled in, he thought, “Well, it’s finally come to us.” 

Libraries across the country have faced similar complaints for years, with an uptick beginning in 2016. In many places, these complaints have resulted in less LGBTQ+ programming, partly due to self-censorship (for instance, librarians wanting to avoid controversy).

The library board has regularly discussed over the past two years how to respond in the event of similar controversy here, Tepe said. 

At the meeting, Tepe broadly defended LGBTQ+ library holdings and Pride displays as appropriate within library policy, citing broad community interest in LGBTQ+ books and materials and Pride Month celebrations.

“Displaying library materials on topics of great interest meets the collection development policy standards of providing library patrons with access to authoritative opinion on the topic of varying levels of difficulty, complexity and length,” Tepe said at the meeting.

Tepe also noted that the library system has received no formal complaints from any of the individuals who wrote letters to the Athens News. He told the Independent that he recently received two related complaints about library holdings. While one complaint is still being processed, neither has yet resulted in the removal of library materials, Tepe said.

ACPL Board Vice President Suzanne Ragg and member Steve Cox both expressed support for Tepe and current library policy as it relates to LGBTQ+ holdings and displays.

“I’m very proud of the development that our library has done in their policies concerning inclusiveness in our community — our whole community — and I appreciate everything our administration has done to stand up,” Cox said.

To convey the breadth of community interest in LGBTQ+ holdings and displays, Tepe referenced bipartisan federal recognition of Pride Month by U.S. Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden, as well as media coverage and widespread attendance of Pride Month events locally.

However, Tepe told the Independent that none of this is necessary for the libraries to recognize feature LGBTQ+ pride displays, whether in June or at any other time of year: “The fact that there is a community in Athens who is interested in that topic means that it will continue to be at the library.”

Many who spoke during the public comment period at the library board meeting emphasized the importance of varied library holdings to individual exploration and discovery, particularly as it relates to identity.

“It wasn’t until a public library opened in the town over from mine in eighth grade that I was able to start navigating big questions around how my identity and beliefs might differ from others,” said local resident Becca Lachman. “There are items in our libraries I don’t agree with either or want my child to read or view, but I welcome those conversations with her when she does, and I can’t imagine parenting without access to all that a public library offers.” 

Others said that pride displays and LGBTQ+ holdings have helped them feel welcome at the county’s public libraries.

“For those of us who are a part of the LGBT community, it’s important for us to feel included and to know that libraries are for everyone, especially those of us who have been excluded or pushed out of public spaces,” said Miranda Christy.

Tepe told the Independent that these comments reinforced the importance of the library’s displays and holdings.

“The comments that were made by members of the community last night talking about how they felt welcome in the library and safe in the library because of that visible recognition is meaningful to us, because we do want everybody to feel safe and welcomed in the library — so so that is definitely something that we are taking into account as we make decisions about displays,” Tepe said.

On to Buchtel

After the ACPL board meeting concluded, about 50 attendees traveled to the Nelsonville-York Board of Education meeting. The board chooses the board members for ACPL, which prompted letters to the Athens News calling for anti-LGBTQ+ protests at the July 19 school board meeting.

A woman at the forefront speaks at a podium while a large crowd sits in several rows of chairs behind her.
Photo by Dani Kington.

One attendee addressed the turnout during the public comment period, noting that those in attendance wished to support the library’s current administration. No other members of the public made comments.

School board president Micah Covert did not respond to the Independent’s request for comment.

Tepe said it will be important for the public to continue supporting the library’s board and administration. 

“We’re not expecting this to be done after this board meeting,” Tepe said. “The pattern in other places is that the complaints continue — and there’s always the possibility that people who are objecting to the presence of particular viewpoints in the library will continue to complain and come to board meetings and continue to challenge library materials. So, we will continue to need the support of everybody in our community as we make sure that we are providing information for the entire community.”

The next ACPL board meeting will be at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16, again at the Nelsonville branch. The next Nelsonville-York Board of Education meeting will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9, in the junior high school/high school cafeteria.

The post Calls for anti-LGBTQ+ protests backfire appeared first on Athens County Independent.

‘Everybody assumes that it’s like the rest of California and it’s not’: Rural LGBTQ students and administrators describe campus strife.

In rural Siskiyou County, where California meets Oregon, the local community college is hiding its LGBTQ+ center behind closed doors. Queer students are scared for their safety. 

“We are a very conservative county, and we have many students that are out at school but not at home,” said Ty Speck, who goes by “Mama Ty” among students and serves as the advisor to the LGBTQ+ club at the College of the Siskiyous. Instead, she said, the three students in the group wanted to meet in a rotating set of undisclosed locations.

All across California, but especially in rural areas and small cities scattered across the Central Coast, the Central Valley, and the Far North, community college leaders push back at the notion that California is an easy place to be queer. 

In a report from last year obtained by CalMatters, college administrators across the state expressed their support for LGBTQ+ students but said that setbacks persist. 

The report came as a follow up to a 2021 state grant of $10 million — the first of its kind geared specifically towards LGBTQ+ students in community colleges.  But colleges consistently said that the money, less than $100,000 per college on average over five years, was not enough to hire staff positions or to set up a LGBTQ+ center on campus, even in places where many students want it. 

Only 30 of California’s 115 brick-and-mortar community colleges had a designated LGBTQ+ space on campus at the time of the report. Eighteen colleges said they would use the state funds to help develop an LGBTQ+ center.  The remaining 67 schools, including the students and faculty at the College of the Siskiyous, chose to invest the state’s dollars in training for staff, special graduation ceremonies or mental health support for LGBTQ+ students, who are significantly more likely to commit suicide than their peers.

Culture wars put LGBTQ students on edge

Allie Harrison, 25, knows what it’s like to live on the margins. A self-described witch who grew up kissing girls and boys in rural Lassen County, more than two hours north of Lake Tahoe, she is now one of the three members of Lassen Community College’s LGBTQ+ student group. 

“Everybody assumes that it’s like the rest of California and it’s not,” she said. 

When Harrison attended Lassen High School a decade ago, she said the church would co-opt the school cafeteria after hours to run events. When that same church found out about her sexuality, the pastor told her mother that she was a “bad influence” and couldn’t attend the youth group anymore, Harrison says. 

Later, she says her mother kicked her out of the house in part because of her sexuality, and Harrison moved to San Jose with her dad, where she embraced the more open-minded culture at the high schools she attended. 

Now, back in Lassen for college, Harrison says the culture is more accepting than it was just 10 years ago. There’s a Facebook group for LGBTQ+ people in Lassen County that counted Harrison as its 100th member, and the group regularly meets at a local bar. 

But the culture wars that have swept the country have come to Lassen County. In April, residents came to a “showdown” over an effort to remove LGBTQ+ books from the children’s section of the public library. Weeks later, someone stole a pride flag from a local organization and spray-painted allegations about pedophilia on its walls.

The College of the Siskiyous took down its pride flag temporarily in 2019 after someone claimed it was illegal to fly it. The college’s new leadership has since purchased additional flag poles and made a point to fly the flag every May, when the school observes its annual pride month (most students are gone in June). 

On the coast, similar challenges pervade, according to the report issued by colleges last year. 

“Although California is known for its liberal acceptance and support of diverse communities, the small cities within the Central Coast of California are heavily conservative and do not host a large population of LGBTQ community members,” wrote an administrator at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, just south of Pismo Beach. 

In Watsonville, between Santa Cruz and Monterey, community college administrators reported that the pride flag has been stolen or defamed multiple times and that the “vibe” on campus is not welcoming to LGBTQ+ students.

Many LGBTQ+ students never make it to community college at all, wrote an administrator at Golden West College in Huntington Beach: “The most at-risk LGBTQ students often find themselves homeless during high school and struggle to make it to college.” 

Small in number, rural LGBTQ students see gains 

Outside of major cities, attendance and participation in LGBTQ+ groups can be sparse. 

“We are a small rural college and often do not have a large enough population of any one group to have a center specifically for that group,” administrators at Lassen Community College wrote to the chancellor’s office. 

With the state funds, the college initially proposed hosting a “dinner banquet” with a keynote speaker, but with just three students in the LGBTQ+ student group,  college director Jennifer Tupper decided to take them out to a nice dinner instead. Each student got a “very nice classic pen,” she said. The college also hosted a “Diversity Summit” that included representatives from various communities on campus.

Cecil Dexter, a member of the Lavender Initiative at Bakersfield College, stands at the entrance of the Campus Center on June 14, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

While rural communities across the state have smaller queer populations, support in general has increased over the years. 

In Bakersfield, home to Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the LGBTQ+ community has grown and services have become increasingly available in recent years, said Bakersfield College student Cecil Dexter, who identifies as transgender.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dexter used to drive more than  two hours every month in order to meet with a doctor who could prescribe testosterone. Today, he can see medical providers in Bakersfield or in his hometown of Tehachapi, which has nearly  13,000 people.

The Bakersfield College campus lacks a physical space to meet, and the LGBTQ+ student group only began last fall. However, recent pop-up events such as the lavender prom — a dance for the LGBTQ+ community — attracted nearly  200 people, and even smaller events get “a pretty huge turnout,” Dexter said. 

Growing the coffers for LGBTQ centers

The 2021 state grant — $10 million spread across the community college system — was never supposed to fund LGBTQ+ centers, said Jacob Fraker, a consultant for the Legislative  LGBTQ+ caucus. Instead, the money was meant to help with small projects, such as hiring queer-friendly mental health professionals or supporting the events that Dexter hosts in Bakersfield. 

Setting up a safe space on every campus where LGBTQ+ students can gather is urgent, he said, especially in the case of rural community colleges and certain California State University  campuses that are known to be less welcoming. He pointed to the case of CSU Maritime, where female, transgender and nonbinary students reported “widespread sexual misconduct, racism, and hostility.

But he said local community college districts, not the state, should be the ones to pay for it. 

This year, the proposed state budget from the Legislature includes another $10 million over three years for LGBTQ+ services to be divided among the state’s 115 community colleges. CalBright College, which is entirely online, did not receive funding. Fraker said the governor has signaled to the caucus that he’ll approve it.

In the first allotment of funding from 2021, the $10 million was divided up based on how many students each district had and what percentage of students were considered low-income. 

College of the Siskiyous got a little more than $10,000 a year, for five years, starting in 2021. It was not enough to even hire a part-time staff member or set up a center, the college wrote in its report. 

The state also made it so that no district could receive more than $500,000, which meant that large urban districts with multiple colleges received fewer dollars per student. 

This year, Los Angeles Community College District lobbied to get the state to raise the maximum to $900,000, according to the district’s spokesperson, Juliet Hidalgo. 

“SF, Los Angeles, San Diego — they eat up all that money and there’s never enough for the rural colleges. They (rural colleges) want to do stuff, but they don’t have the population,” said Fraker. He said the new funding will also include provisions that ensure rural schools get a fair share. 

Except the math doesn’t work. 

If Los Angeles and other large districts get more funding in this year’s budget, some smaller community college districts will inevitably see less. Neither Fraker nor the Community College Chancellor’s Office could identify who the losers might be. Determining final funding allocations for each college can take months, Fraker said. 

In an interview with CalMatters, administrators at the College of the Siskiyous were surprised to learn about the new grant in this year’s state budget: In the governor’s earlier proposal, there was a typo that said only Los Angeles would receive money for LGBTQ+ students. 

Adam Echelman covers California’s community colleges in partnership with Open Campus, a nonprofit newsroom focused on higher education.

Exploring Two-Spirit, queer Indigenous legacies through art

New summit uplifts rural, Indigenous voices to empower

Organizers of the inaugural Small Town Summit hoped to create an event that would transcend boundaries, including township, city and state lines, as well as political boundaries.

“Connectedness,” “empowerment,” “community-focused” were some of the words participants used to describe their experiences after attending the three-day-long, Small Town Summit, created to address the issues of rural America.

The event, put on by the nonprofit organizations United Today, Stronger Tomorrow and Hoosier Action, created a space to amplify small town and rural communities through strategies and collaboration that includes highlighting the voices of Indigenous, Black, immigrant and LGBTQ+ needs.

“Of course you have your paid organizing staff, but you also have community leaders, and you have union leaders, and you have all these different folks and then even within your organizing staff, you have folks of a lot of different experience,” said Micayla Ter Wee, the national organizer for United Today, Stronger Together.

“Sometimes folks, when you hear rural or small town, forget the diversity that is in those communities and we wanted to make sure that that was acknowledged,” Ter Wee said. “And, you know, everyone from the Indigenous communities to our Black and immigrant communities, also had those spaces to talk about their work and their successes and challenges and for all of us to learn from one another.”

Leanette Galaz, Montana Organizer for United Today, Stronger Tomorrow, said the summit in Missoula came together after attending a separate conference with other organizers who work in predominantly urban areas that lean liberal and are more progressive.

Galaz recognizes that urban areas face issues themselves but felt like the “odd man out” because a lot of the organizing they do is usually in conservative areas.

“We started to realize that there were other organizations out there doing work similar to us, but there was no space for us to come together and share our work with each other,” she said.

Ter Wee said that they anticipated to have around 70 people register for the event, however expectations were exceeded when the summit received around 250 registrants. She mentioned that organizations and other attendee expenses like room and board, travel and food were covered by the summit, making it more available for those who wanted to be included.

Trisha Rivers, who is a part of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, presented during the summit, where she helped lead discussions on race and Indigenous history. Her session, titled Indigified, encouraged people to initiate in the often hard conversation about colonization and the Doctrine of Discovery in order for others to understand the Indigenous approach and perspective to community building and empowerment.

“Addressing the real trauma that has happened to us as peoples and having those uncomfortable conversations with non-Natives to say, this is not how we specifically build power,” Rivers said in an interview after her session. “This is how we do things and how we look at community building and relationship building and nation building and it may look a little bit different.”

The ‘Indigified’ session created a safe space that welcomed everyone to be a part of the uncomfortable conversation about race. Rivers said she hopes participants left the session with better tools to address their own organizational spaces and mindsets.

“What I would want for them to take away is that they know now that they have some kind of insight to begin their own decolonization process but to use the education and information and to really change the systems of oppression of overt racism and to really start calling out their own people to be honest to change.”

Located in Sioux City, Iowa, Rivers is also the Siouxland project director for the Great Plains Action Society, an Indigenous led nonprofit organization. The nonprofit’s work reaches Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota and focuses on issues including cultural revitalization and political engagement.

She is also the first Indigenous representative to be on Sioux City’s first ever inclusive committee, where her role is to be the voice for her community when issues arise and to ensure that there are inviting spaces for Indigenous collaboration – initiatives that Rivers say begin with these uncomfortable conversations.

“What we see a lot of the times is that we, especially in rural areas and in small cities, that a lot of our boards and public elected officials are not really representative of our communities,” Rivers said. “It’s mostly Republican led, white males, and, you know, that’s not okay because our communities are not. We’re so diverse.”

Among the participants of the summit that was a part of the discussion was Michael Hovde with the For Our Future Foundation who sat in on the Indigified session. Hovde, who is based in Wisconsin, said during the discussion that the session delivered an impactful message which brought some insight to the Native perspective.

Hovde said he believes he will be able to take away ideas for his own work with Four Our Future Foundation when conducting their own Native outreach work within Wisconsin. He also didn’t mind being a part of the tough talk on Indigenous peoples as he was a contributor to the discussion.

“I think it’s important to lean into uncomfortable conversations sometimes because that’s how you make progress. That’s how you move forward,” Hovde said. “You know, if you don’t have an uncomfortable conversation where you, for example, confront your biases about a particular group, then how are you going to get past those biases or overcome or reshape them?”

Also from Sioux City was Brandon Arreaga, Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and Mexican. Before attending the summit, he had never been on a plane before.

During a session titled, “Native Wins: Native organizers sharing stories with other Native and non-Native communities,” he spoke of his experience as a formerly incarcerated individual and reconnecting with his Native and Mexican identity.

Arreaga said that he doesn’t have a Native name but joked that if he did, it would be “NDN Taco.” He said Native wins are not only in the courthouse, but “our wins are everywhere;” adding that the session was insightful and powerful.

“To be able to hear those stories of different types of wins that our Native people have accomplished and those stories need to be shared more so we can see why we’re fighting, what we’re fighting for and we’re preserving our culture and our ways,” he said.

Now working as a carpenter, Arreaga said he is rebuilding communities he once destroyed as a gang member. The summit brought him out of his comfort zone and returning home, he wants to take back what he learned to help get out the Native vote and help Native men rise above any current situations they may find themselves in.

“Healing is the strongest medicine we have,” he said.

One primary example of a rural Indigenous organization facing issues in their home state is the Riverton Peace Mission located in Riverton, Wyoming, where they address bordertown racism and violence.

“We’re here to get some more knowledge of how to better be advocates for what we’re doing. I think the leadership development here and the base building is gonna be really helpful in how we succeed,” said Leslie Spoonhunter, Northern Arapaho, co-chair for the Riverton Peace Mission.

Riverton is a town located on the Wind River Indian Reservation which is shared by two tribes, the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho. According to the Riverton Peace Mission webpage, its main goal is to focus on “advanced healing, reconciliation and community harmony,” concepts that Spoonhutner saw in the Indigified session.

“It’s really a touchy subject, especially when there’s like non-Natives involved but I think we’re all here for the right reasons and forward thinking. So I felt good about it. You know, I haven’t really been into a session like that before, so I got a lot out of it,” Spoonhunter said after the session was out. “Very much needed because we all lived together on Earth, like we are all in our communities together. So yes, we need to have those very heartfelt and hard conversations.”

The summit featured a Native and Indigenous Caucus which Michelle Sparck, Cup’ik, was excited about.

“I’m really psyched to see a caucus,” she said. “I mean, usually we don’t have that kind of presence, maybe there’s a one-off or a two-off, a token; but no, we have a caucus and that’s really exciting.”

Sparck works as the director of strategic initiatives for Get Out The Native Vote in Alaska. Organizing is not new to her, over the years she has worked in Washington, D.C., working with politicians and big agencies.

She was heartened to see the Native representation at the summit and the ability to show others that Indigenous organizations can be a valuable ally.

“I just see so much potential in this kind of gathering.”

The post New summit uplifts rural, Indigenous voices to empower appeared first on Buffalo’s Fire.

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Did a Wisconsin elementary school use a book in its curriculum that depicts children in non-traditional gender roles?

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Wisconsin Watch, a nonprofit newsroom, is partnering with Gigafact to produce fact briefs — bite-sized fact checks of trending claims. Sign up for our newsletter for more stories straight to your inbox.


Sugar Creek Elementary, a public school in the Madison, Wisconsin, suburb of Verona, used the book “A House for Everyone.”

It was part of a bullying prevention unit, school district spokesperson Marcie Pfeifer-Soderbloom told Wisconsin Watch on April 21, 2023.

The 2018 book “challenges gender stereotypes and shows 4- to 8-year-olds that it is OK to be yourself,” its publisher says.

Some excerpts:

“Ivy is a girl …. She never, ever chooses to wear a dress.”

“Alex does not feel like just a boy or just a girl. They feel very uncomfortable being called he or she.”

“Tom is a boy. When he was born, everyone thought he was a girl. They gave him a girl’s name. This made Tom sad. When he grew up, he told everyone he was a boy. Now everyone calls him he and Tom. This makes Tom really happy.”

This Fact Brief is responsive to conversations such as this one.


Google Docs Verona School District email reply 042123

Jessica Kingsley Publishers A House for Everyone

YouTube A House for Everyone (video reading)

Did a Wisconsin elementary school use a book in its curriculum that depicts children in non-traditional gender roles? is a post from Wisconsin Watch, a non-profit investigative news site covering Wisconsin since 2009. Please consider making a contribution to support our journalism.