Culture wars at the Lassen Library?
If you read it on Facebook, it must be true — to paraphrase a famous old television commercial from a decade or so ago about a woman who met a French model on the Internet.
Here in Susanville, the Facebook hornets buzzed about a showdown between the LGBTQ+ community and the Christian community regarding materials available for children at the Lassen Library. As with many hot topics one finds on Facebook these days, reality frequently becomes the first victim in the heat of someone’s impassioned and fiery post.
At its Thursday, April 20 meeting, the Lassen Library District Board of Directors listened for more than two hours to dozens of mostly polite and respectful speakers from both sides who expressed their views on the topic of LGBTQ+ materials available at the library. The board also presented a letter from its attorney on the topic, but took no action, although the letter, written by attorney Peter Talia, and the current topic, will return as discussion items at the board’s next meeting scheduled at 4 p.m. Thursday, May 18 in the library’s conference room.
According to Talia’s letter, “Every one of the public is welcome at our library regardless of their beliefs, background, race, sexual orientation, religion, marital status, et cetra, and I do not think there can be any disagreement that the library cannot discriminate against any recognized class. We have a duty to maintain and support diversity. All people of the public must have access. We simply cannot discriminate.”
Here’s what launched this controversy
A library employee who asked to be identified only as Jamie said she posted a small rainbow flag with the inscription “Love is love,” on a bulletin board in the children’s section of the library.
“The flag in question that we’re talking about was this piece of paper,” Jamie said, holding up the flag. “This is the flag. I put this up on the diversity and inclusivity board along with a Black and a White hand shaking … These issues and ideas are given to us by accredited library associations for California. We don’t come up with these ideas on our own. This is the flag, a piece of paper that was put so high up on the wall no 5-year-olds and even most 12-year-olds would have seen it. Did I take it down? Yes. Was I told to? No.”
She said many of the books in the children’s section are on display because they’re new books, and in any case, many are purchased by the public and donated to the library.
“I don’t understand what is happening here or why everybody has made so many rumors about what is going on here,” Jamie said. “That’s not what’s going on. None of us have an agenda. Our agenda is to give your kids a safe, fun place to come. That’s it. We can’t help your views as much as you can’t help ours. We do not put our own personal agendas on anything. If you don’t like the books, don’t check them out. If you don’t want your kids to read them, don’t read them to them. That’s it. It’s that simple … This is absolutely ridiculous. Gay, straight, Black, White, who cares? That’s the world around you. There’s no way around that. If you don’t want to read it, and you don’t want your children to see it, don’t. Don’t. That’s all you have to do. It’s that simple.”
Alice Allison, who said she was the one who asked the library to take down the homosexual flag from the children’s section back in March, also spoke, and she thanked the library for removing the flag.
“I did not request that any books be removed from the library at that time, certainly not from the adult section. None of my business, OK?” Allison said. “I’m only interested in the children because they cannot defend themselves.”
She said she did not identify herself as a member of a church, but, “my priest called me into his office because he’s concerned that I had attacked and disrespected the library staff. I did not.”
She also criticized a post about her that she called “a lie” — a word she said she hesitated to use because it’s hurts, “but it is a lie, it’s an untruth. The same lie has been posted on a poster by Jacob Hibbitts (a director of the Lassen Pride Network) stating, quote, ‘Suzanne Larson has been attacked recently by a small but vocal group who want all LGBTQ+ books removed from the shelves.'”
She said she and others wrote letters to the library board, and the public could read them for themselves to determine if anyone at the library had been “attacked.”
“You can easily see we are only concerned about the children’s indoctrination,” Allison said, to groans and laughter from some in the crowd at the meeting. “The library’s mission is to promote literacy. Literacy. I am now very concerned about the library’s promotion of the homosexual agenda (more laughter from the crowd) to our children.”
During the meeting, a great many speakers from the LGBTQ+ community spoke about the need to be represented in the library’s offerings. They related their personal struggles coming to grips with their sexuality, partly because they felt so alone, unsupported, misunderstood and abused on their quest to discover who they are and then having to adapt to their newfound identity. Many said they realized they were different than everyone else when they were still young children, but their lives were made more difficult because they found no role models or information that would help them figure out why they were different than everyone else. Some said this situation left them so confused it even led them to try to take their own lives.
Some Susanville residents openly professed their gayness, their bisexual nature and even their transgender ambitions. And most of them said they were born this way — they did not choose this as a lifestyle, so no one need fear their children might be persuaded to become gay because of what they might read in a book. For example, one speaker said she could read a book about murderers, but that didn’t make her want to become a murderer. She also said reading a book about drag queens wouldn’t want to make her become a drag queen, either. Another said while some books may tell stories about gay characters, these books do not teach someone how to be gay.
A retired nurse pointed out at least 7.2 percent of the population identifies as LGBTQ+ (she believes the number is closer to 10 percent), and that is a large group of people. And a library employee said of the 8,326 books in the children’s section, none have any sexual content and only one of every 1,000 of those books has anything to do with alternative lifestyles, and those books are actually about being kind and understanding of others.
A smaller number of members of the Christian community also spoke up as well, expressing their concern about the effect of LGBTQ+ literature on children.
A minister spoke about the need to understand all people. Some argued a discussion of sexuality is inappropriate for young children during their formative years, and discussions about sexuality should be between the parents and their children.
Another pastor said his concern was not the censorship of gay literature, but the promotion of the gay lifestyle. Several others said the books were not the issue — it was the posting of the Rainbow Flag in the children’s section of the library that raised their concern.
In the end it seemed as if most everyone opposed the censorship of books by the library, and the board expressed its appreciation for drawing such a large and concerned crowd to discuss the issue.
Participants from both sides took the opportunity to donate books for the children’s section of the library, including one pastor who said his Godly view of sexuality needed to be represented as well.