Book wars: Petitioners push to remove LGBTQ books from Homer library children’s section

The Homer Library Advisory Committee heard testimony on more than 50 controversial children’s books on November 15, 2022. (Desiree Hagen/KBBI)

Last week, Homer City Hall was packed with a standing room of more than 100 people for a marathon meeting of the Library Advisory Council. About half a dozen people testified publicly during the more than four-hour meeting.

At the heart of the debate is whether the Board of Trustees should support a decision made by Librarian Dave Berry in early July. At the time, Berry chose to deny petitioners’ requests to move LGBTQ-themed titles from the children’s wing to a separate section at the Homer Public Library, or to remove them entirely.

Madeline Veldstra is a mother-son author who goes by the pen name Madeline Hawthorne. She is spearheading a push to relocate or remove books. Their goal is to “promote transgender ideology, drag queens, homosexuality and other books designed to indoctrinate children with LGBTQ ideology,” according to her group’s petition.

Veldstra and other community members said they were concerned that children might stumble upon “confusing ideas” in the books. Initially, her petition referred to just three headlines: “Maurice Mikel White and the Orange Dress”, “Julian Is a Mermaid” and “Two Grooms on a Cake”.

After the group’s request was rejected by Berry in early July, Wildesta and others filed a petition with the city clerk’s office appealing his decision. By late October, the group had added another four dozen to their roster. These books are now being reviewed by the full Library Advisory Board. A committee of seven, which includes an additional non-voting student representative, has the final say on whether the books stay or go.

Veldstra’s group also created an online petition that had nearly 300 signatures as of Nov. 21. A familiar name on the petition is Rep. Sarah Vance of the 6th District House. A staff member at Vance confirmed to KBBI via email that she had signed the petition. The staffer shared a statement from Vance, who advocates for parents’ educational rights:

“As a mother of young children, I am a staunch advocate for parental rights,” the written statement said. “I signed this petition to relocate library books to support parents [SIC] The right to an education while respecting the different perspectives of those in our community. We should be forever grateful when parents are involved in their children’s education! “

A paper version of the group’s petition had another 300 signatures.

A separate petition in support of Berry’s decision and current library policy had more than 1,000 signatures as of Monday morning, nearly double the number of people who want the books removed.

Most of the titles that Veldstra’s team wants to move present stories with different family structures, such as an adoptive family with two fathers. Others talk about the history of various LGBTQ figures like artist Keith Haring or politician Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, or mention themes around drag. book, it’s about a blue crayon who doesn’t feel like he’s right for him.

According to Berry, Veldstra’s group’s challenge to LGBTQ titles is unprecedented. He thinks this is the first time Homer has seen such a petition.

“We’ve had challenges on a variety of topics, but they’ve always been on specific titles, one or two books at a time,” says Berry. “This is the first time we’ve had such a broad appeal.”

Homer Public Library reviews its children’s collections using common sources and standards that libraries across the country adhere to, Berry said.

“We definitely look for reviews in sources we trust,” he said. “Everything we list here is often held in many other libraries as well.”

The library has an established policy to assist staff and inform the public about its selection of library materials, Berry said. It’s called a Collection Development Policy or CDP.

CDP adheres to the guiding principles and ethical standards established by the American Library Association, including those on intellectual freedom. According to this section, a public library is a resource where “individuals can examine multiple viewpoints and draw their own conclusions.”

With regard to children’s materials, it says, “Library materials are not restricted by what items a child may see. Parents who wish to restrict or restrict their children’s reading should personally monitor their children’s selection of library materials.”

Both Berry and former Homer Public Libraries director Ann Dixon said the backlash from groups targeting libraries that offer LGBTQ material is an ongoing trend across the country. In Ketchikan earlier this summer, a city council member tried to cancel drag queen storytime at the community public library.

Emotions ran high at the November 15 Homer Library Advisory Council meeting. Petitioners outnumbered those who wanted LBGTQ material kept in the children’s section by about two to one. Many of those in favor of keeping the books separate are parents or grandparents concerned about what they call “sexual themes” in certain titles. Dave Becker et al cite Christianity in their defense.

“I would say to the elephant in the room: This is a spiritual issue. What you’re seeing here is a spiritual war,” he said.

On the more extreme side, some petitioners claimed that exposure to LGBTQ material would make their children more likely to be groomed or abused by pedophiles. Some, like local pastor Nathaniel Jolly, wrongly compared drag queens to pedophiles.

Many social workers, educators, and advocates who work with LBGTQ youth, such as Mercedes Harness, refute these claims. Harness is a former library employee who worked as a forensic interviewer for abused children.

“Not a single child has been subjected to child sexual abuse because of books in the library,” she said. “It is despicable and harmful to suggest otherwise to traumatized children and families.”

Defenders of library policy stress the value of inclusivity. By singling out or segregated these books into their own section, libraries would send a message to LGBTQ patrons that they were not welcome, they said.

Lindsay Martin calls herself an LGBTQ ally.She said she went to the conference for her LGBTQ youth friends who didn’t want to be singled out or triggered at the conference. Martin, who comes from an adoptive family, said she relates to being different.

“I do remember as a kid, not being able to find books like me, and desperately wanting to find my family in them,” she said. “I just want you to see that somewhere in your kid’s classroom there’s a little kid feeling lonely without a book that looks like them.”

The Library Advisory Committee will make a decision at its next meeting in the new year. The public can submit written testimony ahead of the meeting or testify in person on Jan. 17.

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