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‘A Battle over Books’: Petitioners push to remove LGBTQ titles from Homer Library children’s section

The Library Advisory Board listened to testimony on over 50 contested children's books on Nov. 15, 2022.
Desiree Hagen
The Library Advisory Board listened to testimony on over 50 contested children's books on Nov. 15, 2022.

A standing room-only crowd of more than 100 people packed into Homer’s City Hall last week for a marathon-meeting of the Library Advisory Board. Around six dozen people gave public testimony clocking the meeting at over four hours.

At the center of the debate was whether the board should uphold a decision made by Library Director Dave Berry in early July. At that time, Berry chose to reject a request from petitioners who wanted LGBTQ-themed titles to be moved from the children's wing to separate sections of the Homer Public Library or removed entirely.

Madeline Veldstra is a mother and children's author who writes under the pen name Madeline Hawthorne. She is leading the push to relocate or remove the books. According to her group’s petition, they are targeting books that “promote transgender ideology, drag queens, homosexuality and other books which are intended to indoctrinate children in LGBTQ ideologies.”

Veldstra and other community members said they’re afraid children might inadvertently stumble across the “confusing ideas” in these books. Initially her petition mentioned just three titles: “Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress,” “Julian is a Mermaid” and “Two Grooms on a Cake.”

After thegroup’s request was rejected by Berry in early July, Veldsta and others filed the petition with the City Clerk's Office to appeal his decision. And by late October, the group had added four dozen more titles to their list. The books are now being reviewed by the full Library Advisory Board. The seven-member board, which includes an additional non-voting student representative, has the final decision on whether the books stay or go.

Veldstra’s group also created an online petition that as of Nov. 21 had almost 300 signatures. One familiar name on that petition was District 6 House Rep. Sarah Vance. A staff member for Vance confirmed to KBBI via email that she had signed the petition. The staffer shared a statement from Vance which advocated for parents’ rights in education:

“As a mom of young children, I am a strong advocate for parental rights,” the written statement said. “I signed this petition to relocate books in the library to uphold parents [SIC] rights in education while respecting the diverse views of people in our community. We should always appreciate when parents engage in the education of their children!”

A paper version of the group’s petition has an additional 300 signatures.

A separate petition in support of Berry’s decision and the current library policy had over 1,000 signatures as of Monday morning, which is nearly twice the amount of those who want the books removed.

Most of the titles Veldstra’s group wants moved present stories with different family structures, like adopted families that have two dads, for example. Others talk about the history of various LGBTQ figures like artist Keith Haring or politician Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, or mention themes around drag. Other books are more conceptual, like the book “Red,” which is about a blue crayon that doesn't feel like he fits in.

Challenges made by Veldstra’s group on the LGBTQ titles were unprecedented, according to Berry. He thinks it’s the first time there has been a petition like this in Homer.

“We have had challenges over a variety of topics, but they've always been for specific titles, one or two books at a time,” Berry said. “This is the first time we've ever had an appeal that was this sweeping.”

Berry said the Homer Public Library vets its children’s collection, using common sources and standards that libraries across the country adhere to.

“We definitely look for reviews in our trusted sources,” he said. “Everything that we have on the list here is commonly held in a lot of other libraries as well.”

Berry said the library has an established policyto assist staff and inform the public on its selection of library materials. It's called the Collection Development Policy or CDP.

The CDP adheres to the guiding principles and ethical standards established by the American Library Association, including a section on intellectual freedom. According to this section, the public library is a resource where “individuals can examine many points of view and come to their own conclusions.”

Regarding children’s material, it says, “Library materials will not be inhibited by the possibility that items may be seen by children. Parents who wish to limit or restrict the reading of their own child should personally oversee that child’s choice of library materials.”

Both Berry and former Homer Public Library Director Ann Dixon said backlash from groups targeting libraries that provide LGBTQ materials is a trend happening nationwide. Earlier this summer in Ketchikan, a city council member tried to cancel a drag queen’sstorytime at the community’s public library.

At Homer’s Library Advisory Board meeting on Tuesday, emotions were running high. Those who want the LBGTQ material to remain in the kids’ section outnumbered the petitioners about two to one. Many of those who favor segregating the books are parents or grandparents concerned about what they call “sexual themes” in some of the titles. Some such as Dave Becker evoked Christianity in their justifications.

“I want to address the elephant in the room: this is a spiritual matter. What you're seeing here is a spiritual war,” he said.

On the more extreme side, some petitioners claimed that exposure to the LGBTQ material will make their children more likely to be groomed or experience abuse by pedophiles. Some, like local pastor Nathaniel Jolly, incorrectly compared drag queens to pedophiles.

Many social workers, educators and advocates who work with LBGTQ youth, like Mercedes Harness, refuted those claims. Harness is a former library employee and worked as a forensic interviewer for children who experienced abuse.

“Not one child experienced child sexual abuse as a result of a library book,” she said. “Suggesting otherwise is despicable and harmful to the children and families who experience trauma.”

Defenders of the library’s policy emphasized the value of inclusivity. They said by singling out or segregating these books to their own section, the library would be sending a message to LGBTQ patrons that they are not welcome.

Lindsay Martin described herself as an LGBTQ ally. She said she attended the meeting for her friends who are LGBTQ youth who did not want to be singled out or triggered at the meeting. Martin comes from an adopted family and said she relates to being different.

“I do remember as a kid, not finding books that looked like me, and wanting so badly to find my family in the book,” she said. “I'm just asking you to see that there's a little kid somewhere in your kid's classroom that feels alone and doesn't have a book that looks like them.”

The Library Advisory Board is set to make a decision at its next meeting in the new year. The public can submit written testimony before the meeting or testify in person on Jan. 17.

Originally from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia, Desiree has called Alaska ‘home’ for almost two decades. Her involvement in radio began over 10 years, first as a volunteer DJ at KBBI, later as a host and producer, and now in her current role as a reporter. Her passions include stories relating to agriculture, food systems and rural issues. In her spare time, she can often be found riding her bicycle, creating art from handmade paper, or working in the garden.
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