A Michigan town defunded its public library over LGBTQ2S+ books

Libraries in Michigan and Iowa have closed due to conservative pushback

A Michigan town has voted to defund their public library after conservative pushback against LGBTQ2S+ graphic novels.

In a Tuesday primary, voters in Jamestown Township voted to reject a property tax that funds the Patmos Library by a 25-point margin—eliminating around 84 percent of the library’s budget, according to Bridge Michigan. Without the funding, board members say the library is likely to run out of money sometime next year. 

Larry Walton, president of the library’s board, said that the closure was unexpected, despite earlier backlash. “The library is the centre of the community,” Walton told Bridge, noting that the library served as a polling place for the Tuesday primary, and that it provides other community services, including WiFifor residents who don’t have it in their homes. “For individuals to be short-sighted to close that down over opposing LGBTQ2S+ is very disappointing.”

Locals first voiced concern over the books in the library’s collection earlier this year, with parents primarily focusing on Gender Queer: A Memoir, a graphic memoir by Maia Kobabe, which details the non-binary author’s coming of age. In 2021 the book was the top most challenged book in the U.S., according to the American Library Association

According to Bridge, the town’s typically small library board meetings began to draw as many as 50 participants this past spring, many of whom demanded the book be pulled from the collection—despite the fact that it was housed with the adult graphic novels.

While the library ultimately agreed to hold the book behind the counter, complaints began to roll in about other queer graphic novels, including Tillie Walden’s Spinning and Colleen A.F. Venable’s Kiss Number 8—though both reportedly remain in place in the young adult graphic novels section. 

In the lead-up to the August primary, some locals mobilized to defeat the funding renewal, passing out flyers at a Memorial Day parade that mentioned the book and targeted library directors who they said “promoted the LGBTQ2s+ ideology.” As complaints mounted, the library’s director and subsequent interim replacement director both resigned due to harassment. Former director Amber McLain, who is openly gay, told Bridge in May that she had to change her name on Facebook—because she was being inundated with angry messages. 

“Libraries are for everyone, not just the majority,” McLain told Bridge. “When I was director at Patmos, there were just under 67,000 books. The removal of one may not seem like much, but when you consider that there are maybe 50 books with LGBT2S+ representation in that 67,000, each one counts.”

 

“When you restrict access [to books], you impact the trajectory of somebody’s life.”

The incident mirrors a similar case at an Iowa library last month. The Vinton Public Library in Vinton, Iowa closed in July after multiple directors resigned due to criticisms from conservatives about LGBTQ2S+ books, as well as LGBTQ2S+ employees—including one interim director. Initially hired as a children’s librarian two years ago, Colton Neely, who is openly gay, told the Des Moines Register he faced pushback from the outset. “I felt like nobody was really giving me that support,” he said. While the Vinton library has since reopened with limited hours, its future remains uncertain. 

Bans targeting LGBTQ2S+ books in school districts and public libraries have mounted across the U.S. alongside other forms of anti-LGBTQ2S+ legislation. But in the face of what many advocates are calling censorship, some libraries in places with more public support have fought back. Earlier this year, the Brooklyn Public Library began offering nationwide free access to banned books for teens. 

“We need these young adults to be able to learn about the world, learn how to consider somebody else’s point of view and learn how to reconsider their own way of thinking about the world,” Amy Mikel, the library’s director of customer experience, told Xtra at the time. “When you restrict that access, you impact the trajectory of somebody’s life.”

Oliver Haug

Contributing editor Oliver Haug (they/them) is a freelance writer based in the Bay Area, California. Their work focuses on LGBTQ2S+ issues and sexual politics, and has appeared in Bitch, them, Ms and elsewhere.

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