October 2020 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

A member of the Fairfax County, Va., Library Board of Trustees questioned why the system’s website was highlighting LGBTQ-themed material during a late July meeting.

“We have ‘Rainbow Reads for Teens,’” said Philip Rosenthal. “Why don’t we have the flip side of the rainbow reads for teens?”

He continued, “Those type of titles, highlighted, are offensive to many, many citizens of Fairfax County. They’re offensive to the Catholic community, they’re offensive to the Baptist community. They’re offensive to the Mormon community, and we’re promoting it on our website.”

Rosenthal also demanded to know why Muslim authors were being highlighted and called for equal time for Catholic, Jewish and Baptist authors. He also criticized the library for highlighting documentaries of interest to Black patrons, asking, “Black lives documentary. Why don’t we have some white lives documentaries?”

In response to books listed under the category of “Dismantling Systemic Racism,” Rosenthal said, “We have this new word, ‘systemic racism.’ I’m not sure anybody knows what it means. If we’re going to put those in, then there ought to be some books to tell the other side. We’re changing the history of America here. In the library, which is supposed to be nonpartial, is doing this.”

Rosenthal’s comments sparked a swift backlash from an LGBTQ rights group and dozens of other community organizations.

The Northern Virginia Equity Coalition said Rosenthal, a local businessman who owns a collection agency, should resign.

"We do believe that the words and values he’s expressed are racist and they are homophobic,” the Coalition’s Kofi Annan told WRC-TV.

Another trustee, Darren Ewing, agreed with Rosenthal and called the library’s collection “completely one-sided,” and remarked, “If you go on the catalog homepage, it is social justice. There’s nothing wrong with social justice, but you got to put it within a framework.”

Ewing later resigned from the board, but Rosenthal refused to step down. He offered an apology during the board’s Sept. 9 meeting.

“I used very inappropriate words, and I apologize to you because it was not my intention,” Rosenthal said.