War on Queer Books

Here’s What Happened When Anti-Gay Protestors Tried to Destroy a San Diego Library Pride Display

At the end of June, two anti-LGBTQ+ protestors attempted to sabotage a library’s Pride display by checking out all of the books and refusing to return them. Given that the library is located in a deep blue district in San Diego, the protest quickly backfired as local residents banded together to replace the materials. At the same, the incident represents another example of anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry creeping into California, once considered a liberal bastion.

The Pride display at the Rancho Peñasquitos branch of the San Diego Public Library was not only relatively small, it was located nowhere near the children’s section of the library. But that didn’t stop library members Amy M Vance and Martha Martin from describing the materials as “inappropriate content” for children.

“Minor children have the right to belong to a community that respects their innocence and allows families to have conversations about sex and sexual attraction privately, and only when parents deem it appropriate,” Martin and Vance wrote in an email obtained by the San Diego Tribune.

Their email was based on a template introduced last year by anti-LGBTQ+ organization CatholicVote. Through a campaign called “Hide the Pride,” the organization guides participants on how to remove LGBTQ+ content from their local library. In order to check out nearly every book in the display, Vance and Martin abused a system that was designed to expand access to library materials: borrowers can check out up to 50 books at a time and renewal extensions are equally generous.

In response to the protest, Marni von Wilpert, the city council member representing the district, called on residents to come to the library’s aid. According to the New York Times, the library received Amazon packages containing replacement books and over $15,000 in donations (which the city matched to a total of $30,000). The library plans to use the funds to invest in more LGBTQ+ content and events, including drag queen story hours. To top it all off, the books Martin and Vance checked out were recently returned.

“Suburban, formerly conservative communities are still not buying into this culture war idea that we can’t have love and tolerance and acceptance,” said von Wilpert. “That has been amazing.”

Von Wilpert was referring to the growing liberal trend in the area, with herself becoming the first Democrat elected to her district. San Diego elected its first openly gay mayor in 2020 and its first all-Democrat city council in 2022. In spite of this, anti-LGBTQ+ activists have been organizing in the Golden State. An anti-trans group held a secret meeting at a San Francisco restaurant in May. Protestors faced off at a Los Angeles area elementary school over a Pride event. And a school board in Temecula recently voted twice to remove a textbook containing brief references to Harvey Milk, only reinstating it after Gov Gavin Newsom threatened sanctions.

“I’m frankly shocked by this because eliminating LGBTQ content from libraries is what you might expect in Mississippi, but never here in San Diego,” von Wilpert told the Tribune. “Denying others the right to read LGBTQ-affirming books is just another way of telling LGBTQ people they don’t belong — and that’s dead wrong. Everyone has the right to read what they want, but absolutely no one has the right to keep others from reading books that reflect their experiences and backgrounds.”

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