A group of pastors is trying to get books with LGBTQ themes removed from a library display about banned books.
Representatives from three churches in Rumford, Maine (population 5,841), sent a letter to the Rumford Public Library insisting that certain titles did not belong in its display promoting Banned Books Week, Sept. 23–29.
“We have become aware of displays that we do not believe are appropriate for a public library serving the families and people of the River Valley Area,” reads the letter, signed by Pastor Dan Pearson of the Rumford Baptist Church, Pastor Justin Thacker of Praise Assembly of God, and Father Nathan March of the Parish of the Holy Savior. “A number of the books in the display were promoting homosexuality, such as Two Boys Kissing. … It should be held without doubt or dissension that a public library should be promoting values that contribute to the community and should not be promoting a certain religious view, set of morals or political view over and against another.”
Though the books were aimed at a variety of ages, the pastors claimed they all subjected impressionable children to “early sexualization.” (They described the cartoon nudity on the cover of My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness as “risqué and immodest.”)
“The topics and images presented on this tale are therefore not appropriate … where children are present,” the letter continues. “This, until recently, has been considered not only inappropriate but the abuse of children.”
In addition to Two Boys Kissing, the library’s Banned Books Week display includes The Color Purple, And Tango Makes Three and Queer: A Graphic Novel, as well as frequently challenged titles like Alice in Wonderland, Fahrenheit 451, The Kite Runner and To Kill a Mockingbird.
While the men are all evangelical Christians, they insisted “If we had a Muslim community living here, they would also be highly offended by the displays.”
But not everyone in the community appreciates the clergymen’s efforts.
“A lot of people severely underestimate teenagers,” writes local queer author Katrina Ray-Saulis, who raised awareness of the controversy on social media. “If you think for a second that your 14-year-old doesn’t already know about suicide, sexuality and drugs, you are doing a severe disservice to your child. … Don’t pretend they’re innocent just because it’s easier for you than it is to accept that they are growing.”
The National Coalition Against Censorship and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund also opposed removing the books.
Ray-Saulis adds that, while the preachers initially complained about cover art and titles, “the situation has escalated and their list of grievances has grown.”
“One of the men has verbally expressed that he would like to pursue the destruction of all books regarding homosexuality in the library,” she writes on Facebook. “Silencing the voices of LGBT+ community members can only serve to intensify the violence our community sees. This is a dangerous step we can’t afford to take.”
Sadly, LGBTQ books routinely top the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books. Last year that list included Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel Drama, Alex Gino’s George, And Tango Makes Three and trans teen Jazz Jennings’ memoir I am Jazz.
Thankfully, at a board meeting on Monday the library board voted to keep this year’s Banned Books Week display intact.