Calls for anti-LGBTQ+ protests backfire
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.
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.