Battle over books: Petitioners push for LGBTQ titles to be removed from the children’s section of Homer’s library

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

A crowd of more than 100 people gathered at Homer City Hall last week for a marathon meeting of the library’s advisory board. About sixteen people gave public testimony during the meeting over four hours.

At the center of the debate was whether the board should uphold a decision made by library director Dave Berry in early July. At the time, Perry chose to deny a request from petitioners who wanted LGBTQ-themed titles moved from the children’s wing to separate sections of the Homer Public Library or removed entirely.

Madeline Wildstra is a mother and children author who writes under the pseudonym Madeline Hawthorne. She is leading the campaign to move or remove books. According to her group’s petition, they target books that “promote transgender ideology, ques, homosexuality, and other books intended to indoctrinate children with LGBT ideologies.”

Wildstra and other community members said they feared children might inadvertently stumble across the “confusing ideas” in these books. Initially, the petition mentioned only three titles: “Maurice Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress”, “Julien the Mermaid”, and “Two Grooms on a Cake”.

After Perry denied the group’s application in early July, Veldsta and others submitted the petition to the city clerk’s office to appeal his decision. By late October, the group had added fourteen more titles to their roster. Books are now reviewed by the Library’s Advisory Board at full capacity. The seven-member board of directors, which includes an additional non-voting student representative, has the final decision on whether or not the books stay.

The Veldstra group has also created an online petition which as of November 21 has nearly 300 signatures. One of the familiar names on that petition was 6th District House Representative Sarah Vance. An employee of Vance confirmed to KBBI via email that she had signed the petition. The employee shared a statement from Vance advocating for parents’ rights to education:

“As a mother of young children, I am a strong advocate for parental rights,” the written statement read. “I signed this petition to transfer the books in the library to parental support [SIC] Rights to education while respecting the diverse perspectives of people in our society. We should always appreciate when parents are involved in their children’s education! “

The paper version of the group’s petition contains an additional 300 signatures.

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

Most of the titles Veldstra Group wanted moved existing stories with different family structures, like adoptive families with two parents, for example. Others talk about the history of various LGBTQ figures such as artist Keith Haring or politician Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in California, or mention topics about drag. Other books are more conceptual in nature, such as Red, which is about a blue crayon that doesn’t seem to fit him.

The Veldstra group’s challenges to LGBTQ titles were unprecedented, according to Perry. It is believed to be the first time such a petition has been made in Homer.

“We were challenged on a wide variety of topics, but it was always for specific titles, one or two books at a time,” Perry said. “This is the first time we’ve had an appeal that was this sweeping.”

Homer Public Library screens its children’s collection, Berry said, using common sources and standards that libraries around the country adhere to.

“We definitely look for reviews in our trusted sources,” he said. “Everything we have on the list here is commonly kept in a lot of other libraries as well.”

Berry said the library has a consistent policy of assisting staff and informing the public of its selection of library materials. It’s called Group Development Policy or CDP.

CDP adheres to ethical guidelines and standards established by the American Library Association, including a section on intellectual freedom. According to this section, a public library is a resource where “individuals can examine many points of view and come to their own conclusions.”

Regarding children’s materials, she says, “Library materials will not be precluded from children’s potential viewing of items. Parents who wish to limit or restrict their child’s reading should personally supervise that child’s selection of library materials.”

Both Berry and former Homer Public Library Director Ann Dixon said the backlash from groups targeting libraries that provide LGBTQ materials is a trend that is happening nationwide. Earlier this summer in Ketchikan, a city council member tried to cancel drag queen story time at the community public library.

At the Homer Library Advisory Board meeting on November 15, emotions were running high. Those who wanted LBGTQ material to remain in the children’s department outnumbered the petitioners nearly two to one. Many of those who prefer to separate the books are parents or grandparents who are concerned about what they call “sexual themes” in some titles. Some like Dave Baker raised Christianity in their justifications.

“I want to address the elephant in the room: This is a spiritual matter. What you are seeing here is a spiritual war.”

On the more extreme side, some petitioners have claimed that exposure to LGBTQ material will make their children more likely to be predisposed to or subjected to abuse by pedophiles. Some, like local pastor Nathaniel Jolly, have incorrectly compared drag queens to pedophiles.

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

“Not a single child has been sexually abused as a result of a book in the library,” she said. “Suggesting otherwise is despicable and harmful to traumatized children and families.”

Library policy advocates have emphasized the value of inclusivity. They said by picking these books apart or separating them into their own section, the library would be sending a message to LGBTQ patrons that they are not welcome.

Lindsey Martin has described herself as an LGBTQ ally. She said she attended the meeting for her LGBTQ youth friends who did not want to be singled out or singled out at the meeting. Martin comes from an adoptive family and said she was about being different.

She said, “I remember as a child, not finding books that looked like me, and wanting so badly to find my family in the book.” “I’m just asking you to see that there is a little kid somewhere in your child’s classroom who is feeling lonely and doesn’t have a book like him.”

The Library Advisory Board is scheduled to make a decision at its next meeting in the new year. The public can submit written testimony prior to the meeting or testify in person on January 17.

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