Metro Weekly

Woman Checks Out All LGBTQ Library Books to Preserve Children’s “Innocence”

School board candidate Heather Fletcher says she checked out the books to make the library a "safe place for children."

Image by Todd Franson

A candidate for public office in Maryland says she checked out all of the books from an LGBTQ Pride Month display at the Brunswick Public Library so that others wouldn’t be able to see or read them and to prevent children from asking potentially uncomfortably questions.

Heather Fletcher, a candidate for the Frederick County Board of Education, claims she checked out 20 books from the display last Tuesday to make the library a “safe place for children.” She told the Frederick News-Post that she was “disturbed” by the display and worried that it would prompt “age-inappropriate” questions from young children. Specifically, the mother of three worried that her children might see the word “queer” on a book title, and asked library staff to move the display away from the main lobby area.

When her efforts to have staffers relocate the display failed, she decided to check out the books so other library patrons, especially children, wouldn’t see them. She said she also took a cup filled with pins that have pronouns printed on them, which are often used by people to signify their gender identity.

“This has nothing to do with the gay community,” Fletcher told the paper. “It has to do with the preservation of innocence.”

The books that Fletcher checked out are not just those with titles explicitly mentioning LGBTQ themes, but stories or books even tangentially related to the LGBTQ community, such as the historical events like the AIDS epidemic or the Stonewall Riots, or books by LGBTQ authors.

Some of those titles include: How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Scientists Tamed AIDSWe Are Everywhere: Protest, Power, and Pride in the History of Queer LiberationIndecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall, When Your Child is Gay: What You Need to KnowDavie Bowie Made Me Gay: 100 Years of LGBT Music, and Love That Story: Observations from a Gorgeously Queer Life, by Jonathan Van Ness, one of the cast members of Netflix’s Queer Eye television program.

On Wednesday, Fletcher spoke during the public comment portion of Frederick County Public Libraries’ Board of Trustees meeting, complaining about the display and questioning why “taxpayer money” was used to purchase the pronoun pins.

But Samantha Jones, a spokesperson for Frederick County Public Libraries, told the News-Post that Fletcher’s assumption is wrong, and that no taxpayer money was used to purchase the pins.

“Those were not actually created with any public funds,” Jones said of the pronoun pins. “All of our libraries have ‘Friends of the Library’ groups that support them, and items like that always come from those. So, it is not taxpayer money going toward things like that.”

Jones noted that after Fletcher checked out all the books from the Pride Month display, employees at the Brunswick branch reconfigured the display, which is intended to “raise awareness of diverse experience and perspectives.”

There is no limit on the number of books a library patron can check out at once, Jones said, and, in theory, Fletcher could have renewed the books she checked out up to 10 times. 

“We support the rights of all library customers and program participants to form their own opinions of books or collections,” Jones said.

Fletcher later told the News-Post that she has since returned the books, and has vowed not to patronize county libraries any longer.

Fletcher, and other conservative candidates running for the school board — similar to their counterparts across the country railing against so-called “liberal indoctrination” by school boards — have previously railed against LGBTQ content in the public sphere. They particularly balked after the current school board approved Maryland’s health curriculum framework, which they claimed would expose children to age-inappropriate topics.

While no actual lesson plans have been developed from that framework yet, the outline for “family life” curriculum would touch on topics that some parents find objectionable, including the acknowledgment that there are “different types of families” and emphasizing that all people, even those of different gender identities or expressions, should be treated with respect — which conservatives say infringes upon their religious beliefs.

The county has since created an “opt-out” system where children whose parents don’t want them to receive instruction on anything related to “family life and human sexuality” or LGBTQ-specific topics that fall under that umbrella, can request their children be provided with alternate lessons. 

Kris Fair, the director of the LGBTQ nonprofit The Frederick Center, said he still doesn’t understand Fletcher’s assertion that the visibility or availability of LGBTQ-related titles in the library somehow endangers children.

“I truly struggle with that statement,” Fair said. “I’ll remain perplexed on it, I think for the rest of my life.”

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