Kyle Cruz of Denver, one of two people from outside Douglas County who spoke during a Douglas County Libraries Board of Trustees meeting on May 31, 2023, at the Castle Pines branch library, questioned where the line should be drawn for “unfettered access to information.” (Andrew Fraieli for Colorado Newsline)
Some of the more than 60 residents at a Douglas County libraries meeting Wednesday called certain LGBTQ books in local libraries obscene and pornographic and demanded that they be removed from public view. It was the second meeting in a row where they made such a demand.
But this sentiment was challenged almost 2-to-1 by other residents at the meeting who said removal of the material was akin to book-banning and that the issues being raised were not concerned with protecting children but rather avoiding sexualities and gender expression.
Almost all the books in question, including “Let’s Talk About It” by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan, “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson, and “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, are located in the adult section of the libraries — the exact compromise suggested by multiple speakers to keep the books away from children.
According to Bob Pasicznyuk, the executive library director of Douglas County Libraries, young adult nonfiction is located in the adult section, as there aren’t enough titles in that genre to warrant a section of its own.
“Their compromise is already common practice,” Pasicznyuk told Colorado Newsline.
The idea of a compromise to keep the books away from children was heavily criticized in public comment, though, with residents seeing this as a form of censorship and an attempt at banning the books.
Aaron Wood, founder of conservative Christian men’s activist group Freedom Fathers and a former candidate for Colorado Republican Party chair, among others, said he does not see the practice as book-banning but rather as a way to rethink what books are being brought into the library and why.
“It may not be about banning books to this person, but in fact the United States right now is seeing a vast increase in book-banning efforts across the country,” said Tom Yondorf, a 23-year resident of Douglas County, speaking in public comment during the Douglas County Libraries Board of Trustees meeting, which took place Wednesday at the Castle Pines branch library. “Libraries are one of those places where you aren’t supposed to get the left view of the world, or the right view of the world, but ideas, all ideas, about the world.”
Challenges target books by LGBTQ authors and people of color
Nationwide, challenges to books in libraries, schools and other public institutions have increased, with the American Library Association announcing in March 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 the data 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.
The Washington Post released an analysis last week of research by Tasslyn Magnusson of PEN America, a free expression advocacy group, showing that people who filed 10 or more book challenges across 153 school districts and 37 states accounted for 6% of all book challengers, but had filed 60% of all book challenges.
If the values parents are instilling in their children day after day crumble once they encounter a book with an idea or life experience or person that might make them uncomfortable, or curious or challenged, then maybe their values are what need questioning, not the book.
– Kelly Allan, a youth librarian from Highlands Ranch
According to Douglas County libraries public records, five appeals total were submitted against books in 2022. This year, four appeals were submitted prior to the April board meeting — three by the same person — with eight submitted shortly after the meeting, by two people. No more had been submitted as of Wednesday’s meeting.
“Groups like Moms for Liberty and the Freedom Fathers often claim they’re not really banning books, because book banning isn’t a popular look,” Jessica Fredrickson, a librarian since 2019 in the Denver metro area and recent co-creator of an anti-censorship group, told Colorado Newsline. “They just want to restrict materials by putting LGBTQ books behind a locked cabinet, or require parent permission to check materials out or burn them in a bonfire.”
Many speakers at the meeting insisted that the practice was not book-banning, though.
“Let’s have all the books, all the books, let’s have no books off the table, let’s just not have pornographic books in front of young kids,” said Douglas County Republican Party chair Steve Peck.
Multiple residents pushed back against the labels “pornographic” and “obscenity.”
“Yes, we absolutely want to protect our children from obscenity and pornography,” resident Mary-Ann Geisler said in public comment. “But the words obscenity and pornography are thrown around quite a bit, and those are actually legal terms.”
The U.S. Supreme Court in the 1970s established a standard for determining whether material can be considered pornography subject to legal regulation. The standard in part refers to materials that “depict or describe patently offensive ‘hard core’ sexual conduct” that must be specifically defined in any regulating law.
Wood, of Freedom Fathers, when asked, defined pornography as “describing or displaying sexual acts for a non-educational purpose.” He said that the children’s picture book that sparked public comment for the library board last month, “The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish,” by Lil Miss Hot Mess — which has 57 holds on five copies, according to the Douglas County library website — was not pornography but is still destructive to children by acting as a sort of gateway to “gender confusion.” Wood insisted that his concern would be the same even if these were heterosexual-focused books.
“I’ve never seen a book turn a child gay, but I have seen books inspire kids to ask questions. Why would anyone be afraid of that,” Kelly Allan, a 16-year resident of Highlands Ranch and nine-year Douglas County youth librarian, said at the meeting. “If the values parents are instilling in their children day after day crumble once they encounter a book with an idea or life experience or person that might make them uncomfortable, or curious or challenged, then maybe their values are what need questioning, not the book.”
She reiterated, along with almost a dozen other speakers, that no matter the content, the responsibility to keep any books away from children is with the parents, not the library. Allan specified that she was speaking on behalf of herself and not the library.
Michael Riddler, who described himself as proudly queer, said the situation was simple: “If you don’t believe in them, or don’t agree with them, don’t read them. But I promise you, if they’re looking for that information, they’re going to find it anyway.”
“The zealots that want to remove, burn, lock up or move books to where they won’t be found by the audiences who need them are never on the right side of history,” Allan continued. “Those that defend the unfettered access to information are always history’s heroes.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:01 p.m., June 1, 2023, to correct the spelling of Kelly Allan.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.