Greg Francisco said he finds LGBTQ literature accessible to children to be “poison,” during a Douglas County Libraries board meeting on April 26, 2023, at the Highlands Ranch branch library in Highlands Ranch. (Andrew Fraieli for Colorado Newsline)
A short and bright children’s picture book sparked unusually high turnout at a Douglas County Libraries board meeting Wednesday where some attendees called the book “pornographic,” “nefarious” and “poison,” while others, in equal numbers, found no issues at all.
The book itself was not the sole topic of the public comment during the meeting, which took place at the Highlands Ranch branch library, but it spurred debate on the appropriateness of books representing LGBTQ life and characters being accessible to children in the library, and for some, being in the library at all.
The book in question was “The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish,” by Lil Miss Hot Mess, which is available at the Lone Tree branch.
“The issue here isn’t that there is a book about drag queens but that some parents don’t want their children to know about drag queens and they don’t want to have conversations with their children about things that make them uncomfortable,” said Angela Thomas, a Douglas County resident.
Many of the comments during the meeting that were supportive of the book highlighted the importance of exposing children to diversity in people and representations of themselves.
“You never forget when a kid sees themselves in a book for the first time, they just light up and they get so excited,” Jessica Fredrickson, a librarian since 2019 who’s worked across the metro area, told Colorado Newsline. “I think it’s absolutely essential public libraries have books in them for everyone to represent a diverse experience.”
Others saw books like “The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish,” as well as “This Book is Gay,” as age inappropriate and that it “promotes specific sexualities,” according to Douglas County resident Kormac Loftus.
The content includes ““specific sexualities for minors, for children that are below the age of sexual consent,” he continued. “So, you’re actually encouraging them to engage in what are criminal acts.”
Multiple people opposed to LGBTQ books being openly accessible in the library highlighted that they were not suggesting banning any books, but making them less on display to children. Amity Wicks suggested a solution similar to the approach seen at stores selling pornography, where 18-and-up content is behind a curtain.
“We need maybe a locked cabinet where you need to go ask the library for permission to show you the content that’s inappropriate for children,” she said.
Others, such as Adam Hiller, went so far as to suggest burning them in a bonfire after saying he did not see his argument as an “anti-gay trans rant.”
Few appeals challenging material have been submitted to the library over the past couple years. According to Douglas County Library records, four appeals were submitted this year as of Wednesday, five appeals in 2022 and three in 2021.
For this year, three of the appeals were submitted the day of the board meeting by resident Laurie Kelly — one of which was for “The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish.”
“You have to ask yourself what’s behind this,” Kelly said. “Why do drag queens seek an audience with children now, when historically, their audience was adults for entertainment and comedy. Why do drag queens need affirmation from children?”
Generally, if a patron has an issue with a book, staff are happy to try and answer questions about it, according to Amber DeBerry, director of community engagement for Douglas County Libraries. If patrons are still dissatisfied, they can fill out an appeal form for the book and the library’s collections manager will review it.
“They’ll review the book, make sure it’s being requested, it’s on demand, it’s trending in the world today or in the community,” DeBerry explained. “They’ll kind of go through their list of why a book might be in a collection and they respond to that.”
The evaluation takes into account the item’s relevance to the community and contemporary significance, according to the library’s policies, as well as popular interest and author reputation.
But even if a book hasn’t been checked out in a long time, the collections manager might weed it, “but they wouldn’t ban it,” DeBerry said.
If the patron appeals the decision of the collections manager, the matter would go in front of the library board, which has final say. No book appeal, at least in the past few years, has even reached the board for consideration of being banned, DeBerry said, nor are any books currently banned.
Nationwide, challenges to books in libraries, schools and other public institutions have been increasing, with the American Library Association announcing last month that 2022 saw almost 1,300 challenges to books and other library resources. That was almost double the number of challenges of the previous year, and the most challenges in a year since the association started tracking 20 years ago.
These challenges were aimed at almost 2,600 unique books, of which “the vast majority were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color,” the ALA said in a release. The majority of those books were in school libraries.
“Kids are exposed all the time to heteronormative things in literature, like when someone reads a book in story time, and there’s a mom and dad in it, no one thinks that’s not fine,” Fredrickson, who has worked as a librarian in Douglas County in the past, told Colorado Newsline. “But is that not also indoctrinating kids into heteronormativity?”
Fredrickson expressed a concern echoed by many who spoke in public comment, that those opposed to the books, requesting some be removed, would be pushing their views onto others.
“You can’t make decisions for my reading life,” she said. “It’s not up to you to say what my library has available, but just like it’s not up to me to decide what books should be on the shelf or not.”
Resident Jen Irison compared the issue to children dressing up as superheroes. Kids don’t think about the death caused in the comics and movies, she explained, just the colorful costumes acting involved.
“They think it’s cool because that’s where their mind is right then,” she continued. “They don’t need to have any other input besides, ‘There’s some people that have dresses on on a bus, and they’re having fun.’ That’s it. That’s all they’re going to see unless you put sexuality into it.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:35 a.m., April 27, 2023, to clarify the process of considering a challenge to library material.
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