Utah’s Hurricane Library found itself in the eye of the storm this week over displays advertising LGBTQ literature, timed to Pride month.
Employees at the southwestern Utah branch — located in the small town for which the library is named — were ordered to remove buttons that read, “Ask me about LGBTQ reads.” Last year the library was forced to take down table displays advertising a variety of books that deal with queer and trans issues.
Washington County Library Director Joel Tucker claimed, however, that administrators had received “multiple” complaints in response.
“I take it from the perspective of the patron,” Tucker told the Spectrum and Daily News in St. George, Utah. “What they see is we’re advocating for that point of view, and that we want them to read that. That’s not our intent, to drive people to support one ideal over the other or advocate for one position over another.”
Tucker, who oversees eight county branches in his role, added that the library doesn’t like to wade into issues considered “divisive.” He claimed the county wouldn’t allow pro- or anti-Trump displays, for instance.
“Generally, as a library we try to avoid those kinds of things,” he said.
The banning of LGBTQ displays has been met with opposition from Hurricane Library’s staff, who say that the decision amounts to censorship. Employee Sarah Hall noted that administrators didn’t have a problem when Hurricane Library put up displays marking Saint Patrick’s Day and Black History Month, as well as even more controversial topics.
For instance, when the Fundamentalist Mormon leader Warren Jeffs was put on trial in 2011 for raping a 12-year-old girl he told to feel “the spirit of God,” the library had a special display of its books on polygamy. No one had a problem with it.
“Libraries have to be able to cater to not just one demographic,” Hall said, adding: “If it offends you, wait until the display is over.”
But the small Utah town of just 13,000 people — which also happens to be 70 percent Mormon — isn’t the only community that’s found itself embroiled in a debate over LGBTQ materials in local libraries. Libraries in Illinois, Oklahoma, and Texas have also been met with backlash for their queer- and trans-inclusive offerings.
In 2006, the Metropolitan Library System in Oklahoma ordered LGBTQ books to be moved to a “special section” following complaints from conservative patrons. It was later mandated that the quarantine be at least five feet off the ground.
More recently, residents of conservative Hood County in Texas claimed these books promote “transvestic behavior” and “program children with the LGBTQ agenda.” In a standing-room-only meeting protesting the materials, one angry local claimed adults “have a duty to protect children’s innocence.”
“This is information that hits a child’s eyes and goes into their brains before they have a chance to make a decision about it,” said Dave Eagle of Granbury, in comments originally reported by the Texas Observer.
Of the American Library Association’s list of the most frequently banned books, half are LGBTQ-themed. Among them are This Day in June, an illustrated children’s book depicting a Pride Parade; Tango Makes Three, in which two male penguins raise a baby together; and My Princess Boy, about a gender nonconforming youth who likes to wear dresses.
One book near the top of the list is The Family Book. It depicts multiple different types of family units — using animals as stand-ins to represent interracial multi-generational families. A single page reads, “Some families have two moms and two dads.”
The ALA claimed that challenges to these books have only grown in recent years.
The Washington County Library system, though, claimed to have struck a compromise over the issue of LGBTQ materials. Instead of having a display specifically highlighting queer- and trans-themed books, its displays now promote “diversity.” The revamped tables read: “Libraries are for everyone.”
Meanwhile, the county has banned all buttons on employees’ uniforms as part of its new dress code for library workers. But when asked just how many complaints led to this shift in policy, Tucker did not give a clear answer.
“How many complaints is too many?” the director asked. “If one person is upset, that’s kind of highlighting there may be a problem.”