A small Michigan town has voted to defund its library.The Fight Begins With Gender Queer: A Memoir

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JAMESTOWN, Mich. — Two librarians have resigned since the troubles began, and Caitlin McLaughlin doesn’t want to be No. 3.

But the same word kept popping up on board meetings and yard signs that she embarrassed and falsely accused: grooming.

People in this farming town in western Michigan say the Patmos library is “raising” children, promoting “LGBTQ ideology,” according to a set of printed flyers. They say same-sex pornography is on the shelves for younger readers. McLaughlin said they called the pedophile on staff. Then one morning in August, they voted to defund Jamestown’s only public library, jeopardizing the institution’s future as neighbors clashed over who decides free speech in this crimson corner of America. .

“I’m not a ‘beautician,'” said McLaughlin, 34, who is collecting children’s books for lunchtime storytime. “I’m not a pedophile. I’m afraid of what people will see when they see me.”

Jamestown’s vitriol has soared with the rise of groups across the United States that oppose text with LGBTQ characters, accusing writers, teachers and librarians of trying to brainwash America’s youth. The American Library Association said it counted “unprecedented” attempts to ban books in 2021, noting that most titles refer to sexual orientation, gender identity or racism.

Americans have long tried to censor literature—”Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was the target of an 1852 anti-slavery message—but debates about trans rights and critical race theory have recently sparked a radical grassroots movement to control the Children’s shared worldview.

This is how the railroad-themed library on the site of an early 20th-century railway station lost financial support from its community.That’s why the staffThree librarians, cut from the usual five-person roster – are considering which activities they might have to cut back (puppet shows? crafts?) and how long the lights can stay on.

“The loss will be huge,” said McLaughlin, a youth services librarian. “We have something for everyone – from all walks of life.”

With a population of nearly 10,000, Jamestown has Christian conservative roots. Dutch surnames are common – a legacy of Calvinists who settled here in the mid-1800s from the split from Holland and practised stricter forms of Christianity. The county celebrates this legacy with a Tulip Festival every spring.

The 22-year-old library hosts birthday parties, bridal showers, HOA meetings and blood drives. Residents hailed it as a haven for all ages until the controversy sparked the award for best teen book.

The Youth Chapter of the National Library Association has nominated 10 winners for 2020, including a post-apocalyptic thriller about a boy searching for his lost dog, a terrifying science fiction novel about twins with superpowers, and a non-binary memoir about growing up called “Gender Queer.”

Amber McLain, the librarian at the time, ordered each one. The 30-year-old, pink-haired and openly queer, stands out in a county that has not supported a Democratic president since 1864. Yet, her former colleagues and patrons said, people embraced McClain.

“She helped me get my son out of his shell,” said one mother, Sarah Crockett, as she checked a STEM toy bag on a recent afternoon. “When he sees her, he glows.”

“I miss Miss Amber,” Cecil, 5, said, holding her hand.

No one complained about McClain until last November, after protests against the memoir spread across the country after a video of a Virginia mother denouncing “gender queerness” as “pornography” took off on social media.

The 239-page graphic novel includes illustrations of masturbation, sex toys and oral sex, as well as depictions of menstrual blood. Fans saw the scenes as part of the author’s upbringing, while critics slammed them as damaging to developing ideas. “Gender Queer” is the most banned book of 2021.

Some parents found a copy at the Patmos library and created a Facebook group called “Jamestown Conservatives” to push for its removal. One of the organizers, Lauren Nikamp, ​​declined to be interviewed but responded to some questions from The Washington Post by text. “It’s not about LGBTQ material,” she said. “It’s about sexualized material.”

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“These pictures are invisible, they are dangerous and disturbing,” one resident posted on the Facebook page.

Another wrote that “Marxist lesbians” led the National Library Association, adding that “it shows the mindset of those we are against.”

Several people showed up at board meetings to slam “gender queer” and McClain. One grandfather told her that “the original pipeline was designed by God” and that marriages should remain between men and women, and that exposing children to content beyond those boundaries could lead to suicide, pedophilia and human trafficking.

“I know that we live in a country where you can have the right to your own way of life, and that’s fine,” he said, according to a recording of a meeting last November, “but we don’t need to impose it on our children.”

McLean countered that 90 of their roughly 67,000 books have an LGBTQ keyword. She said they spend the most money on Christian fiction.

Jamestown Conservative Party organiser Nick Camp was also on hand to denounce “gender queer” as porn.

“On page 135, I could see a middle-aged man with an erection touching another young man’s erection,” she told the room. “Probably a male under 18.”

Township supervisor Laurie Van Heitzma sided with Nekamp.

“It’s graphics that you can do,” she said. “I don’t want my kids and grandchildren to see it.”

McLean replied that a lawyer reviewed the book and determined that it was not pornographic. Still, given the mature content, she initially placed it in the adult section—closer to novels with heterosexual scenes. However, as opposition grew, she moved “gender queer” behind the counter, only available on request.

“We have to represent every segment of the population,” McLean said, “not just the vast majority.”

The rebound starts there. Staff said that one day in March, a woman showed up at the library, recorded a video and shouted: “Where is she? Where is the pink-haired geek? Where is the pedophile librarian?”

McClain was not there. The chair of the library board told her about it, saying she could work remotely if she wanted to. (McLean declined to be interviewed for this story, but confirmed the sequence of events to The Post.) She chose to resign on the grounds of harassment.

So did her successor, 25-year-old Matthew Lawrence, who was moved to a library in another town after a tense encounter in June — he would not say where. He said one customer demanded to know if he was gay and insisted he remove a rainbow-colored sign that read: “Please use the other door.”

The environment became hostile, Lawrence said, but seeing local officials join protests against “gender queer” ultimately prompted him to leave.

“The complaint is that kids will pick it up and see things they can’t,” he said. “The easiest way to avoid this is to raise kids.”

The battle is brewing at a pivotal moment: Every 10 years, Jamestown votes to update the public funding, much of the budget for the Patmos Library, with the next decision scheduled for August. This time, the library suggested a small increase. Board members estimate that the average household’s annual bill will rise to $20.

The Jamestown Conservatives responded with a leaflet saying the library peddled “LGBTQ content” and “pornographic material” and that the community must address “these evils”. Signs appear in yards opposing approval of taxes to “raise our children.”

“If you think your kids need books on sex, you should go to the store and share them at home,” said Jodi Buchanan, a 58-year-old Christian thrift store volunteer. Neighbor’s “groom” sign.

Buchanan said she Vote against funding update to send message, doubting whether Patmos library will really be forced to close.

“It’s a threat to the community,” she said.

About a third of the town’s voters cast their ballots on Election Day in August. A slim majority opted to divest the library.

“Do you want to defund the damn library?” asked Chavala Ymker, 23, a nonprofit farm worker who grew up behind the building.

As a home-schooled teen, Ymker, who uses their/their pronouns, said they would wander and delve into series about WWII or paper housebuilding guides or Amish romances—their “hottest” indulgences.

“When I’m stressed or anxious, I go there to relax,” Ymker said. “It always felt like a safe and welcoming place.”

Any subject can be seen as threatening, so McLaughlin thinks her safest bet for her latest story time is “Cats.”

Nine days after voting, the librarian told himself to be strong for the kids.​​ As a devout Christian, she began to pray to God in the morning: Please let people see that my colleagues and I are not nurturing anyone for any reason.

At first, she thought the word was silly — grooming — and associated it with her boyfriend’s family golden retriever. Gradually, it started to haunt her. The parents are still polite to her, but what if they doubt her intentions?

“How was your day?” McLaughlin asked a mother and daughter on a bench outside, where she likes to read when the weather is nice. “I’m going to read about cats.”

“Oh! I love cats!” replied a 9-year-old girl with blond braids.

“I’m going to start with a silly book called Stack the Cats,” McLaughlin said.

The other two mothers sat in the shade. Three little boys huddled at their feet. Yellow daffodils sway in the breeze.

“One cat is sleeping. Two cats are playing,” McLaughlin read aloud in singing. “Three cats! What about three cats?”

McLaughlin is eager for critics to see what’s really going on here. She told customers that her only agenda was to improve literacy. She earns $16.25 an hour and supplements her income by working shifts in nursing homes. That’s enough to make a decent living, but McLaughlin, who has been out of work for two months during the pandemic, wonders if she should look for a more stable salary.

The Patmos library has enough money to remain open through the end of next year, and the board is scrambling to restore funding on a November ballot, hoping they can change the town’s mind before the midterm elections.

Meanwhile, a resident started a GoFundMe to close the funding gap. It has raised $146,000 — about $100,000 less than the library’s annual budget.

Support touched McLaughlin, but quietly, she feared for her safety. If people really think they’re raising children, then harassment can turn into something worse.

The librarian didn’t know what to do, so she just kept reading.

“Two cats hiding, two cats looking,” McLaughlin recited to her Storytime audience. “Four more cats stacked!”

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