Crowd of LGBTQ+ allies at Library Advisory Committee meeting (photo by Abigail Hendricks)

Library Advisory Committee Meeting

Last week I chaired a meeting of the Dakota County Library Advisory Committee. Since joining the committee in 2019, we’ve had exactly one member of the public attend our meetings and no one has ever spoken during the public comments.

Last week an estimated 150 people attended our meeting, with more waiting outside, and 37 people spoke (including half a dozen teens) before we cut off the comment period. Local news was filming as well (though I haven’t seen a story run yet).

Running that kind of meeting is daunting.

It’s hard to explain what it meant to have a few familiar faces in the crowd.

All things considered, I think the meeting went very well. Our committee listened with politeness and respect. I’m grateful and honored to served with such an amazing group of book lovers.

Waxing poetic about government: I think government meetings are a cornerstone of our democracy. The fact that the public can come, speak to what is important to them, and have transparency in government processes is a gift. (We even had a commenter make accusations against the library director about a lack of transparency. So at our next meeting we’re going to get a report on that and talk about it.) For as confusing, intimidating and bureaucratic as government can be, there are also beautiful moments of ‘We the People.’

Bias and personal thoughts: It’s an odd experience trying to be an impartial moderator on a hotly contested topic where you yourself have strong feelings.

  • I did my best to fully listen and respectfully hear everyone, even those I disagreed with. I also did my best to be fair, asking both sides to be quiet at times.
  • But we’re also a committee of people with our own opinions. Our role on the committee calls for us to represent our community but also use our own judgement and opinion.

Random: One of my favorite moments was when a State Senator spoke, but opted not to identify themself as such. Not pulling rank and throwing around your title is a really classy move. I don’t know how many politicians would do that.

The Debate

West St. Paul Reader has the full recap of what happened, but in short, people in Lakeville and Farmington checked out every book in the Pride display and left notes complaining about the books. In West St. Paul, they just hid the Pride books. Notes warning parents are now showing up in books with LGBTQ+ themes.

This group was coming to our meeting to complain, but LGBTQ+ allies showed up in force, vastly outnumbering the protesters.

Given the LGBTQ+ pushback nationwide that literally tries to legislate gay people out of existence, I expected people to come with outright hate for LGBTQ+ folks. I was surprised to hear anti-LGBTQ+ activists repeatedly saying they don’t hate gay people, they’re not critical of LGBTQ+ people, and they love all God’s children.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure how you can say a book about LGBTQ+ issues harms children without admitting you have a problem with gay people. What is the harm happening to children?

They quickly pivoted to arguments of “protect the children” and “stop sexualizing children.” This is where sex education books, most of which are gay-friendly, are being challenged. They say it’s “too explicit” for children.

And this is where I’m grateful for the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read Statement (which is 70 years old, as of last month; these are old, long-standing issues) and library policies.

In short, the role of a library is to have all kinds of books, even those you might find repugnant. It is up to you to choose what it is appropriate for you (and your family), and you have no right to make those choices for others.

So while many of these type of groups talk “parents rights” (though I didn’t hear that term at the meeting last week), if they want the library to remove what they consider “sexually explicit” material, they’re actually abdicating their parental responsibility and asking the library to do it for them.

But it’s not the library’s job to decide what’s OK for your children. That’s your job. Precisely because two different parents will have different values, morals, views, etc. about what’s appropriate for their children. And that’s good. I want the parents making those choices, not the library.

And this cuts both ways. There are materials in the library I disagree with. I’ve literally come across a Christian memoir about the gay experience and quickly realized it was of the ‘pray it away’ ilk. Not the book for me. But rather than complain and demand it be removed, I just put it back on the shelf.

Welcome to a pluralistic society.

I’m vocal about this issue because at the end of the day it’s about whether or not we see LGBTQ+ folks as fully human and welcome them into our society. Our foundational documents say that all people are created equal. If we believe that, it’s time for it to be true for LGBTQ+ people.

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