Book banning remains a key issue that Americans United fights against. In the case of a west Michigan public library, the worst-case scenario has become a reality.
Voters in Jamestown Township in Ottawa County voted to reject the renewal of a millage–a term meaning a rate of taxation that is expressed in a fraction of a dollar – that comprises the majority of the Patmos Library’s budget. Without the millage, more than 85% of the library’s funding will be cut. As a result, the library will have no other option but to close within the upcoming year.
While the obvious loss is the lack of access to books themselves, the library provides so many other public services that the patrons would not have access to otherwise, like Wi-Fi, printing, archival material, computers and so much more.
Public libraries are cornerstones within their communities because of this fact. Yet, a band of far-right activists who called themselves Jamestown Conservatives rallied to defund the library in its entirety. Why? Out of the 67,000 books in the library’s collection, about 90 of them contain LGBTQ themes. This is, literally, less than one percent of all that the library has to offer.
Earlier in the year, some parents complained about several graphic novels that centered on queer relationships and coming-of-age stories. While most of these tomes were located in an adult section of the library, some residents argued that possible exposure to such material would mean their children were being indoctrinated.
The anger of the conservative community made its way to Library Director Amber McLain, who resigned after being subjected to online harassment and was falsely and outrageously accused of exposing children to sexual material.
One of the organizers of Jamestown Conservatives made it abundantly clear that the library’s closure was in the best interest of the community’s children. She insisted, “They are trying to groom our children to believe that it’s OK to have these sinful desires.”
Even if the closure was not the intention of the group, it remains that censorship has serious consequences. We see its potential in completely undoing and jeopardizing the opportunities available in a given community.
Compared to other times within our history, it is much harder to outright vilify and harass queer people themselves. In many parts of the country, we can say we exist in spaces where homophobia is the exception rather than the norm. It is harder to police people themselves, so what remains is the persistence of censoring books with LGBTQ themes. What is much easier is censoring books and stories of how queer people live. In essence, religious extremists seek to rob LGBTQIA+ individuals of the opportunity to identify themselves within the very few stories that represent queer people in a positive light. It maintains the status quo that queerness is taboo.
According to one of the members of the Jamestown Conservatives, “It’s not a political issue, it’s a biblical issue.” But what this unfortunate incident really proves is that religious conservatives will stop at nothing – even risking the entire intellectual well-being of a community – to antagonize people who do not mirror their beliefs and lifestyle.