LGBTQ Equality

Kan. librarians get the boot after including rainbow image in a book display

  Rob Boston

Two librarians in Sterling, Kan., who were fired after they incorporated a rainbow image into a display are suing, asserting that the library board is hostile to diverse points of view.

The lawsuit was filed by the former librarians, Kari Wheeler and Brandy Lancaster, and two patrons, Samantha Corwin and Audra Asher, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal.

The display, erected in June, was intended to acknowledge and celebrate diversity. Among the items used was a multi-colored infinity symbol, which is often used to promote awareness of autism and neurodivergent individuals. (See an example here.) A temporary employee at the library assumed the display was connected to LGBTQ+ rights and went ballistic.

Anti-LGBTQ+ rant

The lawsuit asserts that the temporary employee, Ruth Splitter, complained about the display and issued an “anti-LGBT diatribe.” She continued to rant even after being told the symbol was connected to the autism/neurodiversity communities.

Splitter took her complaints to board member Michelle Miller, who ordered Wheeler, the library director, to remove the display, remarking, “I do not want any kind of rainbow display (aside from solely colors focused) especially in this month. We have a conservative town and as a library do not need to make political statements (see Target and Budlight [sic] as negative examples). I certainly do not want the library to promote LGBTQ agendas.” She later added, “I am totally fine with diversity of skin color display, just not represented with rainbow colors.”

Jessi Dobson, a city employee who attends the same church as Miller, also weighed in. She texted Miller about the display, saying, “This is not okay” and insisting that seeing the rainbow logo made her sick.

Librarians are terminated

Wheeler removed the display, but the board met in July and voted to terminate her and Lancaster, the assistant librarian, saying they had lost confidence in the two.

The lawsuit asserts that the board has engaged in other examples of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment, including a claim that Miller objected to purchasing an award-winning book for the collection because it contained a nonbinary character.

We’ve come to quite a pass when Christian Nationalists can charge that any use of a rainbow is evidence of the “LGBTQ agenda” (whatever that is) and use it as justification for firing someone. Even if the display had been meant to show support for LGBTQ+ members of the community, and to direct people to books that include LGBTQ+ themes or characters, that shouldn’t be a punishable offense.

Let this incident serve as a warning to the good people of Sterling. They might want to pay closer attention to their town’s library board. Some of the people on it apparently have intolerant views and fail to grasp the central mission of a public library: to serve everyone in the community.

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