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Arlington library board may bar LGBTQ displays from youth sections as Pride Month debate continues

Nine people sit at a dais behind a wooden wall emblazoned with the city of Arlington logo and tag line, "The American Dream City." A computer monitor holds the same logo and bullet items that read "next steps," "feedback" and "questions."
Kailey Broussard
/
KERA News
Members of Arlington Public Library's advisory Board discuss LGBTQ displays in library children and young adult sections.

The board tabled a vote on the policy to gather more information and feedback from residents. The decision followed nearly four hours of debate about the political nature about whether assembling Pride Month displays is appropriate for children.

The draft, created by a committee of library staff, would restrict Pride Month displays to the adult section.

Catherine Serna-Horn, board chair, called the proposal quiet censorship and a hinderance on the free flow of information.

"The does still hinder youth that are closeted and are otherwise not preferring to come out to library staff or whoever they're with," Serna-Horn said.

Devin Dowling, board vice chair, argued that the LGBTQ community, particularly the transgender community, is controversial. She said there is not enough research surrounding gender-affirming surgery, and argued that displays in children's sections would promote it.

"It's not exclusionary to not display something. I'd say it's like a compromise of non-controversial issues in children's sections," Dowling said.

The meeting was held nearly a month after seven pastors told city officials and library staff that displaying LGBTQ-affirming content in children's and young adult sections would hurt children's mental health.

Gary Hutchison with Grace Community Church said he attended the meeting, and that being LGBTQ sends children on a "path to pain."

"Some of it is caused because they're not accepted and included in love and that's horrible, but some of it is caused just because they're going down that path," Hutchison said.

Instead, library staff can lead people to the appropriate section.

Zoe Wilkerson, a board member, said the existence of LGBTQ individuals is not political. She added that the displays in each section are fitted to what's appropriate for each age group. If children are led to an adult-section display, they may find explicit content

"If we have pride displays in the children and teen areas, then it's going to be more age-appropriate LGBTQ content for those kids," Wilkerson said.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people are more than twice as likely as their heterosexual counterparts to struggle with mental health, and are 2.5 times more likely to experience depression, substance abuse and/or anxiety, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

People driving the discussion have for over a year pushed for Mayor Jim Ross to stop proclaiming June Gay Pride Month. Ross ultimately issued the proclamation following a stern speech, during which he said they would not stop on his watch.

Around three dozen spoke during the meeting Thursday night, most of whom supported keeping displays to the adult section for the sake of the children.

Gina Woodlee, who first broached the issue publicly in July 2021, argued Thursday that discussions about the LGBTQ “lifestyle” are solely related to sexual acts. She accused LGBTQ people in support of inclusivity in libraries of “grooming” children.

“We are asking you to help us protect the innocence of our children and not to side with the drag queens and group whose main goal is to expose our children to sexual content and a lifestyle that the majority of our population does not celebrate,” Woodlee said.

Woodlee, in emails to council members in April and obtained by KERA News, asked city council member Barbara Odom-Wesley whether the library should allow anti-abortion rights displays depicting “aborted babies on display and the horrors of abortion.

“This is how sickening the Gay Pride displays are to many of us and how absurd it is to have any socially controversial groups on display,” Woodlee wrote.

Lesia Pettijohn said she cannot separate sex from LGBTQ issues.

“I don’t want any sex talked about amongst my kids,” she said while watching her children in the chamber lobby as the debate pressed on.

Around eight speakers advocated for allowing pride displays in children’s sections.

The Rev. Kate McGee of Westminster Presbyterian Church said the arguments she heard had nothing to do with the community, whose representation and culture does not solely hinge on sex.

“I don’t think they’re addressing the issue at hand, and I think they are warping the Christian faith to make it something that it’s not,” she said.

Bennett Reddig, president of the youth library ambassadors, said he was disappointed in the rhetoric.

“I think most of the people there are falling for a manufactured controversy and that many of the things that they say are happening just don’t actually exist,” he said. “They’re just kind of using the platform of this meeting to just spew their hateful rhetoric.”

The Library Advisory Board typically meets during the fourth Thursday of each month. Serna-Horn asked to discuss pornography and blatantly explicit books at the next board meeting after public commenters circulated pictures from the graphic novel "The Pervert" by Michelle Perez. The board will also discuss the LGBTQ display policies.

Norma Zuniga, director of libraries, said the library system will create an online public survey regarding the displays and post the revised policies ahead of the next meeting.

For LGBTQ mental health support, call the Trevor Project’s 24/7 toll-free support line at 866-488-7386. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-8255 or texting 741741.

Got a tip? Email Kailey Broussard at kbroussard@kera.org. You can follow Kailey on Twitter @KaileyBroussard.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Kailey Broussard is a reporter for KERA and The Texas Newsroom through Report for America (RFA). Broussard covers the city of Arlington, with a focus on local and county government accountability.