Several residents of Upshur County, W.V. were angered by a decision by the county’s public library to postpone discussion on the status of an LGBTQ-themed children’s book and whether it will remain in the children’s section.
Multiple people crowded into the Upshur County Public Library meeting room to hear the library board’s decision on what to do with Prince & Knight, a picture book written by Daniel Haak, which tells the story of a prince who falls in love with a knight after the two help slay a dragon together.
Many parents had objected to the presence of the book after an elementary school student ran across it on the shelves of the children’s section. The controversy escalated after a local pastor, Josh Layfield, of Calvary Chapel Mountain Highlands, took the issue to the press and urged his congregants and other country residents to demand that the book be banned.
Although residents had been warned they would not be allowed to talk during the meeting — which is why the library previously asked those with opinions to submit them via email — a number, both for and against banning the book, attended Wednesday’s meeting to see what they thought would be a debate among library board members about the status of Prince & Knight.
But that interest devolved into anger after the board went into closed door session and indicated that they would not be speaking about the controversy, according to reporting from Bridgeport, W.V.-based CBS affiliate WDTV and The Mountaineer Journal, a local conservative blog.
When Library Board President Dennis Xander attempted to clear the room, one resident, Rob Allen, called out: “It’s obvious why we’re all here, and you refuse to address it.”
Despite being told he could submit written comments, Allen then continued to protest the refusal of the board to address the controversial book, while Xander insisted the issue would be addressed at a future meeting.
“We have all been here to talk about it; you can’t tell me that [this many] people regularly show up for meetings like this,” Allen said.
Xander responded: “We’re entering into executive session, we’re sticking with the rules, and you’re not welcome.”
The crowd continued to protest the board’s decision to postpone the discussion, eventually prompting the board to adjourn the meeting.
Allen defended his decision to speak out, saying he has concerns about the book remaining on the shelves.
“Whenever I used to bring my kids here, we would sit down, I would grab a magazine they would grab books and look, there’d be a pile of book sitting there and we’d go home and they would act out what they saw,” he told WDTV. “I don’t want my kid grabbing five books off the shelf and that being one of them.”
But other residents argued that taking the book off the shelves violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowing freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
“[The book is] about a knight and prince that fall in love, and if it wasn’t a gay couple, it would be completely ordinary [compared] to any other fairytale,” said Megan Hepburn, a local LGBTQ resident and activist.
The Mountaineer Journal has since reported on the presence of two other LGBTQ-themed books in the library: In Our Mothers’ House, by Patricia Polacco, which deals with a family headed by two mothers; and Julian is a Mermaid, by Jessica Love, in which a young boy decides he wants to dress up like a mermaid, putting on makeup and feminine clothing.
Those who object to the presence of LGBTQ books often claim — as Layfield, the local pastor, did in a Facebook post — that they are attempting to “indoctrinate” young children into being LGBTQ by normalizing same-sex relationships and failing to discourage gender-variant behavior.
The National Coalition Against Censorship recently sent a letter to the Upshur County Library Board objecting to attempts to remove books, even if the majority of residents are clamoring for such action.
“Public libraries are shared community institutions intended to serve the information needs of everyone who resides in the community. In particular, the public library has a responsibility to represent a broad range of materials in its collection and to meet the needs of everyone in the community it serves — not just the most vocal, the most powerful, or even the majority,” the coalition wrote.
“Individual library users have the right to voice their concerns about a library book and select different materials for themselves and their own families,” the coalition noted, “but those objecting to particular books should not be given the power to restrict other users’ right to access those books.”
Regarding the status of Prince & Knight, Paul Norko, the director of the Upshur County Public Library, has said the book will remain off the shelves until the board of directors can review it, at which point the library will release a statement regarding its final decision.
The board hopes to reach a decision before January. Its next scheduled meeting is on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020 at 4 p.m.
But the library also objected to the characterization of their proposed action as a “ban,” telling WDTV the book was never going to be removed from the library completely.
Rather, the library maintains, the question is whether the book will be allowed to remain in the children’s section or will be moved to the library’s young adults section.