“I’m not a ‘nanny,'” McLaughlin, 34, said as he collected children’s books for the lunchtime tale hour. “I’m not a pedophile. I’m afraid of what people see when they look at me.”
Barbs escalated in Jamestown with the rise of groups campaigning across the US to delete texts with LGBTQ figures, accusing authors, teachers and librarians of trying to brainwash the nation’s youth. The American Library Association said it counted an “unprecedented” number of attempts to ban books in 2021, noting that most titles dealt with sexual orientation, gender identity or racism.
Americans have long sought censorship of literature—”Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was a target in 1852 for his anti-slavery message—but debates over transgender rights and critical race theory have recently given rise to aggressive grassroots movements to control shared worldviews with children.
This is how a railroad-themed bookshop on the site of an early 20th century train station lost the financial support of its community. This is the reason for the staff – Three librarians, from the usual list of five – think about what activities they might have to cut out (puppet shows? crafts?) and how long the lights will stay on.
“The loss will be enormous,” said McLaughlin, a youth services librarian. “We have something for everyone – from all walks of life.”
Jamestown, which has a population of nearly 10,000, has conservative Christian roots. Dutch family names are common – legacy Calvinists who broke away from the Netherlands in the mid-19th century to settle here and practice a stricter form of Christianity. The county celebrates this heritage every spring with a lavender festival.
The 22-year-old library hosts birthday parties, weddings, HOA meetings, and blood drives. Residents hailed it as a haven for all ages until the controversy ignited with an award for best teen books.
The Young Adult Branch of the National Library Association has named 10 2020 winners, including a post-apocalyptic thriller about a boy searching for his lost dog, a sci-fi horror about twins with superpowers and a memoir about a non-binary upbringing called “the fairer sex.” .
Amber MacLean, the librarian at the time, ordered a copy of each. Pink-haired and openly sexy, the 30-year-old has stood out in a county that hasn’t supported a Democratic candidate for president since 1864. However, people embraced McClain, her former colleagues and patrons said.
“It helped get my son out of his shell,” said one mom, Sarah Crockett, checking out a STEM toy collection one recent afternoon. “It was shining when he saw it.”
“I miss Miss Amber,” said 5-year-old Cecile, holding her hand.
No one complained about McLain until last November, after a video of a Virginia mother denouncing “gender” as “porn” went viral on social media and protests against the diary spread across the country.
The 239-page graphic novel contains illustrations of masturbation, a sex toy, and oral sex, as well as images of menstrual blood. Fans saw the scenes as part of the author’s experience of coming of age, while critics criticized them as sabotaging the development of minds. “Gender Queer” became the most banned book of 2021.
Some parents have found a copy in the Patmos library and created a Facebook group called “Jamestown Conservatives” that is pushing for its removal. One of the organizers, Lauren Nikamp, declined to give an interview but did answer some of the Washington Post’s questions about the script. “This is not about LGBTQ stuff,” she said. “It is about material of a sexual nature.”
These are school discipline books she doesn’t want you to read, and why
A resident posted on the Facebook page: “These pictures cannot be seen and are dangerous and disturbing!”
Another wrote that the National Library Association was led by a “Marxist Lesbian,” adding that “this shows the mentality of those we encounter.”
Several appeared at board meetings, criticizing the “fairer sex” and McLain. A grandparent told her that “God designed the original plumbing,” that marriage should remain between a man and a woman, and that exposing children to content outside these boundaries could lead to suicide, child abuse, and human trafficking.
“I know we live in a nation where you can have a right to your own way of life, and that’s okay,” he said, according to an audio recording of a meeting last November, but we don’t need to pressure our children. “
McLain responded that 90 of the 67,000 books contain the LGBTQ keyword. She said they spent most of the money on Christian novels.
Nikamp, a conservative Jamestown organizer, was also present, describing “gender sodomy” as pornographic.
“On page 135,” she told the room, “I can see a middle-aged man with an erection touching the erection of another young man.” “Maybe it was a man younger than 18”
The town supervisor, Laurie van Heitzma, sided with Nykamp.
“It’s as graphical as you can be,” she said. “I don’t want my children and grandchildren to see that.”
A lawyer responded to the book and decided it was not porn. However, due to the mature content, I initially placed it in the adult section – close to novels with heterosexual scenes. As objections mounted, she moved the “Gender Queer” behind the counter, making it available only on request.
“We have to represent every segment of the population, not just the vast majority,” McClain said.
The reaction grew from there. The staff said that one day in March, a woman appeared in the library, recording a video and yelling, “Where is she? Where is the pink-haired geek? Where is the enthusiastic librarian for the children?”
McClain was not there. The head of the library board told her about the incident, 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.) Because of the harassment, she chose to quit smoking.
So did her replacement, Matthew Lawrence, 25, who moved to a bookstore in another town — not comfortable saying where — after a tense standoff in June. One of the patrons demanded to know if he was gay, he said, insisting that a rainbow-colored sign that read, “Please use the other door”, be removed.
Lawrence said the environment became hostile, but seeing the local official join the protest against “gay sex” eventually prompted him to leave.
“The complaint is that kids will pick it up and see things they can’t ignore,” he said. “The easiest way to avoid this is to raise your children.”
The battle was brewing at a pivotal moment: Every 10 years, Jamestown voted to renew public funding for the Patmos Library, the bulk of its budget, with the next decision scheduled for August. This time, the library suggested a slight increase. Board members estimated that the average household’s annual bill would rise to $20.
Jamestown governors responded with posts saying the library promotes “LGBTQ content” and “pornography” and that the community should tackle “these evils”. Coastal signs went up against approval of tax dollars for “GROOM OUR CHILDREN.”
“The GROOM brand,” said Judy Buchanan, 58, a Christian volunteer at the thrift store who praised her neighbor.
Buchanan said They voted against renewing funding to send a letter, skeptical that the Patmos library would actually have to close.
“This is a threat to society,” she said.
On Election Day in August, about a third of the city’s voters turned out. A slim majority chose to stop funding the library.
“Do you want to defund the annoying library?” asked Chavala Yemker, 23, a nonprofit farm worker who grew up behind the building.
As a homeschool teen, the Ymker, using their pronouns, said they wandered around and researched a series on World War II, a paper house building guide, or an Amish romance novel — their “most gentle” indulgence.
“When I was nervous or anxious, I would go there to relax,” Yemker said. “It has always felt like a safe and welcoming place.”
Any topic could be considered a threat, so McLaughlin decided the safest bet in her final story hour was “Cats”.
It’s been nine days since the vote, and the librarian has told herself to stay strong for the kids. A devout Christian, she began the morning by praying to God: Please let people see that I and my co-workers are not here to set anyone up for any reason.
At first, I thought the term was silly – grooming – and associated it with the golden retriever of her boyfriend’s family. Gradually, he came to chase her. The parents remained polite to her, but what if they had doubts about her intentions?
“How are you today?” McLaughlin asked a mother and daughter on a bench outside, where she loved to read when the weather was nice. “I will read about cats.”
“Oh! I love cats!” A 9-year-old girl responded with blonde pigtails.
“I’m going to start with a silly book called ‘Pack of Cats,'” McLaughlin said.
Two other nations are sitting in the shade. Three little boys gathered at their feet. Yellow daffodils swayed in the breeze.
“One cat is sleeping. Two cats are playing,” McLaughlin read in a lyrical voice. “Three cats! What do you do with three cats?”
McLaughlin was eager for critics to see what really happened here. She told the patrons that her only agenda was to promote literacy. She was earning $16.25 an hour and supplementing her income with changes to a large home. It was enough to make a decent living, but McLaughlin – who lost her job for two months during the pandemic – wondered if she should look for a more stable salary.
The Patmos library had enough money to stay open until late next year, and the council scrambled to return the funding issue to the November ballot, hoping they could change the city’s mind before the midterm elections.
Meanwhile, a GoFundMe resident has started to cover the financial gaps. I’ve already raised $146,000 – about $100,000 shy of the library’s annual budget.
Support touched McLaughlin, but she quietly feared for her own safety. If people truly believe they are taking care of the children, the harassment may escalate into something worse.
The librarian wasn’t sure what to do, so she kept reading.
“Two cats are hiding and two cats are searching,” McLaughlin tweeted to her audience over the hour of her story. “And four cats are stacked!”