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Arlington library board chair claims she was removed to please anti-LGBTQ display policy 'bullies'

Cat Serna-Horn, library board chair, wears a cream top and makes hand motions at the Arlington City Council dais. Three council members can be seen in the frame.
Kailey Broussard
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KERA News
Cat Serna-Horn addresses Arlington City Council Jan. 24, 2023 over her removal from the Library Advisory Board due to a Facebook post calling out people opposed to LGBTQ Pride Month displays. Serna-Horn was removed by an 8-0 vote.

Arlington City Council members removed the Library Advisory Board chair for comments made in a private Facebook group during the height of a debate over LGBTQ Pride Month displays. While officials said the move will bring closure, critics –including the ousted chair and other board members– said council gave in to “bullies.”

Cat Serna-Horn says council members offered her “political favors” to quietly resign from the board, which voted multiple times to keep June Pride displays in teen and adult sections of the library and create standing LGBTQ sections for all-age ranges.

She also claimed she was initially told comments in a since-deleted Nov. 26 would jeopardize her board position, but then was told the board's compromise to keep LGBTQ sections in the library forced her removal.

"I was criticized for not whipping the votes in the December meeting to ensure that they went back to a more restrictive environment in the library. Again, I vehemently disagree; that would have been unethical behavor," she said during the Tuesday council meeting.

District 7 Council Member Bowie Hogg, who appointed Serna-Horn, replaced her. Council members approved the motion to terminate Serna-Horn’s appointment, appoint Jennifer Hutcherson to the board and Zoe Wilkerson as board chair by an 8-0 vote. Andrew Piel, District 4 council member, was absent.

Hogg said in an email to KERA before the meeting that Serna-Horn’s removal was not about the library board vote, but about professionalism. He considered the terms she used for residents opposing LGBTQ library displays and sections offensive, and Serna-Horn's accusations that council members Raul Gonzalez and Rebecca Boxall delayed finalization of the decision as unprofessional and offensive.

"The concern is unprofessional actions on social media where she made a post regarding rumors on my council colleagues, calling out one side with, in my opinion, derogatory terms, and then trying to stack a board committee. As an appointee and then a chair, I do not believe this is in the best interest of the city and appointees will be held to a higher standard of decorum,” Hogg wrote.

In a since-deleted Facebook post to the group Arlington Residents for Inclusion, Serna-Horn called opponents of the compromise “pissy” and “MAGA folks.” She also referred to them as “Woodlee fundamentalists,” referring to Gina and Tim Woodlee, who have been prominent oppositional voices to library display policies, as well as earlier movements to bar the city from proclaiming June Pride Month.

Serna-Horn called the notion that her removal was simply about decorum "intentional naivete."

"Unfortunately, many council members do truly believe this isn't about inclusivity. I think that's relatively naive and, in some cases, that's intentional naivete because it was stated in public commentary by these extremists in our community that this was their goal," she said.

LGBTQ Pride month debates

The vote follows months of hours-long debates at the library advisory board, during which anti-LGBTQ Display commenters called LGBTQ people groomers and sinners and compared them to pedophiles. They also asked if the board would consider displays honoring pro-life movements, Conservatism, Christians and “heterosexual pride.”

A book shelf under the banner "Banned Books Week" holds copies of "The Giver" by Lois Lowry; "This Book is Gay" by James Dawson; and "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison.
Courtesy City of Arlington
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An image obtained by KERA News through a records request shows a Banned Books Week display in a library outside of the Arlington Public Library system. KERA News requested all emails mentioning LGBTQ displays and banned book week between Sept. 1, 2022 and Nov. 11, 2022.

Before that, much of the same group spoke out against Ross' proclaimation declaring June Pride Month. During a May meeting, members of Stedfast Baptist Church compared LGBTQ individuals to pedophiles and suggested that members of the community be put to death.

Voices opposed to LGBTQ displays have called for Serna-Horn's and Library Director Norma Zuniga's removal in library advisory board meetings for months. Calls for Serna-Horn's removal have spanned back to Nov. 1, according to emails obtained by KERA News through open records request.

One of two public commenters Tuesday evening who supported Serna-Horn's removal accused her of using her education in psychology and ongoing studies to become a librarian as an intimidation tactic. The commenter also said Serna-Horn claimed to listen to all sides as chair, then presenting a different side online.

“As it turns out, she presented one face to the public but another to those she implored to help thwart," she said.

Mayor Jim Ross, minutes before the vote, asked the community to “let us have the closure to move on now.”

“I hope that what happens tonight allows us to put a little bit of closure to some of the divisiveness about whether or not this community is inclusive. This community is inclusive, but the issue on the board membership right now isn’t about inclusivity or about bowing to certain groups or individuals. It’s about conducting ourselves appropriately,” he said.

After the meeting, Wilkerson said closure is not up to anyone but the public. Wilkerson felt closure during the several votes over Pride Month display policies. That didn't end discussions, she said.

"We don't determine when the issue is closed. The public determines when the issue is closed," Wilkerson said.

Meanwhile, Serna-Horn says anti-LGBTQ display policy board members plan to put up more like-minded board members for the five positions that will open come June, then rehash the issue.

"This is doing the opposite. The board voted twice, actually, and this was closed. This was a done deal, this was tied up with a bow and we all sighed a collective sigh of relief after, frankly, communal trauma over the several months of sitting there, enduring vitriolic hate speech, personal threats to board members and myself in public forums," she said.

George W. Hawkes Downtown Library features an awning with a geometric pergola, large ceilings and slide doors. It stands behind street lights and a winding sidewalk near Arlington City Council chambers.
Kailey Broussard
/
KERA News
George W. Hawkes Downtown Library stands near Arlington City Council chambers. Council members voted to remove Cat Serna-Horn from the Library Advisory Board chair.

Future library board

The library board's next meeting is 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the George W. Hawkes Downtown Library. The board will select a new vice chair and discuss the library budget and charter schools in town.

Wilkerson, who joined the board in 2021, said she's focused on easing the transition. Before Serna-Horn became chair, Wilkerson said, the board struggled to make quorum. Serna-Horn made sure people attended meetings and felt OK raising concerns and voting their conscience.

"I just really want to make sure that we're not losing the type of board that Cat created and the strength of the board," Wilkerson said.

Serna-Horn was joined by library staff and three library advisory board members during the meeting. Wilkerson, Cristina Smiley and Sherry Woods spoke to Serna-Horn's leadership during public comment.

Woods called Serna-Horn "unswerving" in her leadership through weeks of unprecedented hours-long meetings, yelling and threats directed at the board.

“As a volunteer, we shouldn’t be subject to these political moves. If this continues, you won’t have any volunteers,” Woods said.

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.