The Homer Public Library as seen on Aug. 18, 2021, in Homer, Alaska. (File photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)

The Homer Public Library as seen on Aug. 18, 2021, in Homer, Alaska. (File photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)

Library Advisory Board to consider petition to move LGBQT+ children’s books

By Michael Armstrong

Homer News

Should books with LGBQT+ themes be removed from the children’s and juvenile sections of the Homer Public Library?

At its Nov. 15 meeting, the Library Advisory Board will consider that question when it holds a listening session on an appeal of a denied petition by a Homer citizens group asking for a list of 40 children’s books with LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual and more) themes, to be moved out of the younger readers sections. That petition asks that books “promoting transgender ideology, drag queens, homosexuality, and all other books which are intended to indoctrinate children in LGBQT+ ideologies” either be removed or not be available to children to browse or “to stumble upon these confusing ideas” in the children’s library or the juvenile section.

In early July, Melissa Martin submitted a petition to the library asking for LGBTQ+ books to be moved out of the children’s and young adult sections. Since July 14, children’s book author Madeline Veldstra, who writes under the name of Madeline A. Hawthorne, also has been collecting signatures online and in a printed version of the same petition Martin submitted.

Veldstra wrote in an email that Martin should have sent the petition to her group for submission as part of a batch later and not directly to the library.

Library Director Dave Berry said Martin named three titles, “Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress,” by Christine Baldacchino; “Julian is a Mermaid,” by Jessica Love, and “Two Grooms on a Cake: The Story of America’s First Gay Wedding,” by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Robbie Cathro. Berry denied the request to move those titles.

In an email on July 7, Berry wrote, “In keeping with the procedures outlined in the library’s Collection Development Policy (https://www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/library/library-policies), I reviewed the books and discussed them with children’s staff. We concluded that the items have enough merit to justify keeping them in the collection, and I sent the petitioner a message to that effect.”

According to that policy, a denial of a request can be appealed to the Library Advisory Board. The Homer City Council adopted by resolution the Homer Public Library Collection Development Policy in March 2015. The Library Advisory Board is the final avenue of appeal.

That policy reads, “The Library recognizes that within the Homer area there are groups and individuals with widely separate and diverse interests, backgrounds, cultural heritage, social values, and needs, and that any given item may offend some patrons. Selection of materials is not made on the basis of anticipated approval or disapproval of their contents, and no library material is sequestered except to protect it from injury or theft.”

Over the summer, Veldstra continued to gather petitions. On Oct. 25 Veldstra submitted signatures from both the online and print versions to the Homer City Clerk — essentially, resubmitting the same petition that Martin sent in July, but with more signatures.

In an email, Veldstra said she submitted 509 signatures. Some of the signatures were clearly fake, such as one from “Lucifer.”

“Because of the way ipetition.com makes the signature document, ‘Lucifer’s’ signature and comment is included in the document we provided to the clerk. After I had presented the petition, several people signed and commented with some visceral statements, but those were not included in the document I gave to the library,” she wrote, “All together we had 510 signatures, so 509 when you discount ‘Lucifer.’”

Veldstra wrote that after she submitted the petition to the city, she met with Berry. When he denied the petition, Berry offered Veldstra the chance to go before the Library Advisory Board, and she decided to do that. That appeal is on the agenda of the Nov. 15 meeting.

“I believe he was uncomfortable with certain questions I posed like ‘If this book was titled, “The Hips on the Stripper Go Swish, Swish, Swish,’ instead of the hips on the drag queen, would it have made it into the children’s section?’” Veldstra wrote. “I pointed out that it might exacerbate Alaska’s sexual abuse problem to include books elevating sexual performers in the rhyming section of the picture books. He gave examples of parents who do borrow such books for their children and then asked me how I planned on broaching the subject of sexual education with my children (his words: ‘the talk’) when they are older. According to Mr. Berry, some parents might like to use LGBTQ books for informal sexual education. I could not help wondering why sex-ed is deemed appropriate in the rhyming section.

“When I pointed out that it would, in fact, be easier for parents to find LGBTQ books if they were located in a specific section, he proposed I take the petition to the advisory board. The conversation was cordial.”

One gay parent, Charles Francis, who lives in Homer and Washington, D.C., wrote in an email that as gay father he sees “the importance of diverse collections that explain and reflect the world and engage our kids.”

“We have spent many happy, learning hours seated on the floor in the library’s children’s collection with every kind of family in our unique town—listening to, and loving, books,” Francis wrote. “Our family has treasured that open and diverse spirit and believe Homer does, too.”

In an interview on Tuesday, Berry said, “Historically, the policy has always been we try to be as broad as possible in adding materials to the collection. We don’t censor materials. We are very open to input from the community. Our general policy has been to add rather than subtract from the collection.”

On Oct. 28, a list of specific titles to be discussed was given to the board by Veldstra, and that list will be in the Nov. 15 meeting agenda packet, Berry said. The Homer News submitted a public records request seeking that list of titles and other material, but it was not available by press time.

Veldstra wrote that she submitted 40 titles marketed as LGBTQ.

“The books we are asking to move are all intentionally categorized as LGBTQ by the authors/publishers,” she wrote.

The online petition reads as follows and asks that this policy be implemented:

“Petition to Remove LGBTQ+ Books from the Children’s Section

“We, the undersigned residents and parents of Homer and surrounding areas, do hereby petition that the Homer Public Library remove all books promoting transgender ideology, drag queens, homosexuality, and all other books which are intended to indoctrinate children in LGBTQ+ ideologies from the children’s and juvenile sections of the library. If the library must have them, we petition that a section outside of the children’s area be designated for such books so that parents who do not wish for their children to stumble across these confusing ideas may allow their children to browse freely.”

Signers affirmed that they live in the Homer area. Although funded and operated by the City of Homer, the Homer Public Library serves Kachemak City, Seldovia, Anchor Point, Diamond Ridge, Fritz Creek, Kachemak Bay, Port Graham, Ninilchik, Nanwalek, Nikolaevsk, Voznesenka, Razdolna and Kachemak Selo.

The printed petition has the same language as above, but adds, “Some examples of titles we would like removed: ‘Julian is a Mermaid,’ ‘Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress,’ ‘Two Grooms on a Cake: the Story of America’s First Gay Wedding,’ ‘Sex is a Funny Word’ (by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth) and ‘They, She, He, Me: Free to Be!’ (by Maya Gonzalez and Matthew SF).

Berry said parents who want to approve what their child checks out of the library can get a card in the parent’s name.

“It’s the parent’s right and responsibility to supervise their own children,” Berry said.

“We emphasize the right to read,” Berry said in interview earlier in the summer. “That’s one of the core founding principles of library work. Library staff are not to control or censor other people’s reading habits.”

The Library Advisory Board meets at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15, in the Cowles Council Chambers at Homer City Hall. People will have an opportunity to comment on the appeal of the petition in person or via Zoom. Comments submitted by noon Wednesday, Nov. 8, will be in the board packet, and comments submitted before noon on Nov. 15 will be included in a supplemental packet, but may not have time to be read by the board. At the Nov. 15 meeting, the Library Advisory Board will set a meeting date to consider the appeal.

For more information on the board’s meeting, including how to submit written comments, visit https://www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/lab/library-advisory-board-regular-meeting-37.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

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