Arlington Public Library advisory board compromises on LGBTQ Pride month displays
After hours of contentious back and forth, Arlington's library advisory board came up with a compromise in the debate about LGBTQ Pride month displays: give the books a dedicated space in each age-range section of the library, and keep June displays to the teen and adult sections.
Norma Zuniga, director of libraries, says books acknowledging the LGBTQ+ community would receive the same section dedication as other categories offered. Zuniga says the library regularly organizes special collections depending on public interest.
"It's not something that we're starting now because of this issue, but it's something that I wanted you to consider as we talk about displays," Zuniga says.
A survey the library held open for a week received more than 1,800 responses. Of those, 1,062 did not support the restrictions on pride month displays, 686 supported the draft that kept displays to the adult section, 51 did not want displays anywhere and 17 did not want displays that are "controversial, political, sexual or offensive."
The city has been under pressure to withdraw support and acknowledgment of the LGBTQ community since June 2021, when anti-gay speakers decried Mayor Jim Ross' recognition of Gay Pride Month. The reprised calls to scrap the celebration this summer included demands to unshelve books with LGBTQ themes and prevent future Pride month displays in public libraries.
Zuniga says several pastors met with her, City Manager Trey Yelverton and Ross in September because they consider visual depictions of LGBTQ characters and themes a potential stressor on youth mental health.
Cat Serna-Horn, board chair, says she feared dedicating a section could accidentally out someone pulling from the collection. However, Serna-Horn says she spoke with LGBTQ residents who said they would support designated sections.
"I was like, 'Oh, OK, then I can get behind this if this really serves the needs of both points on this topic,'" she says.
The board voted 9-1 to recommend the changes to Zuniga, who will draft the final policy. City council has the ultimate say on the finalized document.
Serna-Horn says the displays should not be behind a figurative or literal "curtain," or hid in the back corner of libraries.
"Just like there's dinosaurs here and we all know that, there's 'Boxcar Kids' over here, there's Judy Blume over here, there will be ... the shelf with LGBTQ and it'll be presented just like any other section," Serna-Horn says.
Board members who asked for restrictions on displays for children said they felt marginalized.
Jabranica Stroba says people who, like her, held the "unpopular opinion" were lost in the shuffle.
"I'm just asking that all people have a place at the table, just not whoever is, like, I hate to say it, whoever is popular now," Stroba says.
Stroba asked whether books with LGBTQ representation would appear in Banned Book Week, which is annually observed in the fall.
"They kind of seem to go hand in hand," Stroba says.
Zuniga replied that the Captain Underpants and Judy Blume series are on the banned book list, among more serious titles.
"Our role as library professionals, as information providers, is to simply make that available and for the public to say, 'Oh, really? Judy Blume was challenged at one point? Why?' And they can choose to take it or not," she says.
The board also discussed whether to request language from the American Library Association to return to the next draft. The ALA is considered the standard for library practices.
Serna-Horn compared the ALA to the American Pediatric Association and law enforcement associations after speakers decried the group as a liberal organization.
"The ALA is kind of the basis of library and information science," she says.
Devin Dowling, board vice chair, says the ALA should not be the moral authority just because it is run by educated professionals.
"I feel like that's elitism talk," Dowling says. "Just because you're educated doesn't mean that you have better opinions about it, that you should get to decide on these topics solely just because you've been educated."
Gina Woodlee, a resident who has led the push against library or city council recognition of the LGBTQ community, says she plans to ask city council to discuss disregarding ALA recommendations.
The board also agreed to explore other names for the year-round sections in case the acronym used to denote lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning is not the best name.
"I've lived long enough to see designations that are insulting and offensive," Adams says.
Graphic novels get new review process
Zuniga says she is introducing new guidelines for graphic novels after people over several meetings have complained about a copy of "The Pervert" by Michelle Perez being available for checkout.
Zuniga says the department will move graphic novels to the third floor of the George W. Hawkes Downtown Library, set up a new screening process for purchasing graphic novels and review the existing collections.
The library will also institute a new parental control feature that allows parents to restrict material that is considered appropriate for teenagers or adults. The current system only restricts the ability for children through 12 years of age to check out adult content.
Zuniga says she's been waiting on a request for reconsideration—a form that starts the formal review process for material in circulation—but has not gotten one since May, when people brought the concerns to city council.
"We've been kind of looking out for them, but that hasn't happened," she says.
Zuniga says—and a KERA public records request supports—that the library system has only one request this year as of Thursday evening.
The sole request resulted in the children's board book "Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race" by Megan Madison and Jessica Ralli, to be moved to a children's section that caters to a slightly older age range. The complaint claims that the illustrations, which depict white children and adults discriminating against Black and brown children, suggest only white people are guilty of racism.
Woodlee stated that she did not fill out a form because it was the library staff's fault that "The Pervert" made it to the shelves.
"It's kind of like y'all are putting that back on us, when the original job, that's on y'all," she says.
Heather Lowe with the Friends and Foundation of the Arlington Public Library says she will "choose to be the grownup in the room and file the form."
"Just file the form and get it off the shelves," Lowe says. "I realize you won't have it to wave around at these meetings, but it'll be a blessing because we've been talking about this book since May."
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.
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