Metro Weekly

Colorado Library Rejects Demands to Remove 4 LGBTQ Books

A conservative activist challenged the books, arguing they needed to be removed from shelves to prevent minors from accessing them.

Photo: Mike2focus, Dreamstime
Library books on shelves. – Photo: Mike2focus, via Dreamstime.

A Colorado library will allow four LGBTQ-themed books to remain on the shelves after the library’s board of trustees rejected a challenge demanding that all four works be barred — not just from the children’s or young adult sections, but from the library’s collection entirely.

Since April, a group of conservative residents in Douglas County, just outside the Denver metropolitan area, has demanded that the books be removed from the library’s collection over fears that they might be accessed by children. Those activists claimed the books were “obscene” and part of a plan to “indoctrinate children” into either identifying as LGBTQ or accepting LGBTQ identity as valid.

The four requests seeking to have the books banned were lodged by Aaron Wood, the founder of the conservative Christian men’s activist group Freedom Fathers, who previously ran for chairman of the Colorado Republican Party. 

“The issue with these books are the themes and suggestive nature, sexual elements, that are portrayed in these books, and the question of, ‘Well, why is this something that should be in the library catalog?'” Wood told CBS News.

Wood also argued that removing the books from the library shelves did not mean that those works wouldn’t be available elsewhere.

“Banning books is not what this is about, those books will still be available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and whatnot,” Wood told CBS News. “This is about as a community we fund the library through our tax dollars and the library should hold a higher standard.”

Wood previously made similar comments to Colorado Newsline justifying his demands that the books be removed.

“Nobody is saying we need to start burning books, but what we need to say is — are these books actually worthy of being in the library catalog, do they offer any sort of educational purpose, advance our culture and values, or are they simply just trash?” he said.

Initially, Bob Pasicznyuk, the executive library director at Douglas County Libraries, rejected the requests to remove the books — This Book is Gay, a young adult nonfiction book on sexuality and gender issues, with personal stories from LGBTQ individuals, by Juno Dawson; The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish, a cartoon children’s picture book by Lil Miss Hot Mess; Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts), a young adult fiction novel by L.C. Rosen; and All Boys Aren’t Blue, a young adult memoir about being a Black queer boy growing up in New Jersey, by George M. Johnson. But Wood appealed Pasicznyuk’s decision.

Wood’s four appeals are among 14 appeals submitted this year targeting 10 different books in the library’s collection — a nearly threefold increase from 2022, when only five appeals were submitted county-wide, reports Colorado Newsline.

The seven-member Douglas County Libraries Board of Trustees met on Wednesday, August 23 to address the appeals and hear public comment from county residents.

Many speakers who addressed the board criticized the attempt to censor the books as a demonstration of anti-LGBTQ bigotry. Some members of the LGBTQ community felt that the books, particularly the nonfiction ones, resonated with them and reflected their own life experiences.

Other opponents of the ban noted that other books in the library likely contain adult content and references to sexuality, including adult romance novels and other books for young adults, but are not banned because the “sexuality” in question is heterosexual. 

Addressing the crowd at Wednesday’s meeting, Pasicznyuk noted that Wood’s request to remove the books went directly against library policy, violating a requirement that the district not censor books based on content dealing with race, sexual orientation, or gender, as well as other characteristics.

“I believe that any reasonable application of these standards is at odds with removing, restricting, or relocating these titles,” he said.

He also noted that the district attempts to avoid personal bias from affecting the curation of the library’ collection, and reviews the collection annually to determine how often particular books are checked out. Those checked out less often can be replaced by other works that might cater more to a community’s particular tastes or preferences.

While informing the crowd that the books in question had never actually been placed in the children’s section, but rather had been classified as young adult works of fiction and nonfiction, Pasicznyuk noted that the board had “directed staff not to limit content just because a child might gain access to it.” He also rejected the idea that the books were obscene, arguing that if a book had been deemed to violate obscenity laws, it would not have been made available to libraries or sold through national retailers.

Despite Pasicznyuk’s insistence that the four challenged books were never in the children’s section, some residents called for them to be burned or locked up, with several offering conspiracy theories claiming that the books are an effort to “groom” children by exposing them prematurely to sexual content, and others declaring that allowing the books to remain in the library, where minors might attempt to access them, was tantamount to “child abuse.”

The board of trustees ultimately rejected Wood’s appeals, allowing all four books to remain in the library’s collection.

Jessica Fredrickson, a librarian since 2019 in the Denver metro area and co-creator of anti-censorship group Douglas County Freadom Defenders, who had presented the board of trustees with a petition bearing the names and signatures of almost 1,500 county residents asking them to leave the challenged books on the shelves, celebrated the board’s decision.

However, Fredrickson told Colorado Newsline she was concerned by some comments by members of the board — all of whom assume their positions on a volunteer basis, and are not required to be trained in library science — about revising policy in the future.

“Many of them seem to lack an understanding of how the library selects materials,” she said, referring to comments by trustee Meghann Silverthorn, a previous president of the Douglas County School Board, in response to a resident’s comment about a lack of “moral framework” in the library’s policies.

Fredrickson contended that the efforts to ban LGBTQ titles amounted to censorship that would violate freedoms — including freedom of speech and freedom of the press — guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

“Just because you don’t agree with something doesn’t mean you get to silence it,” Fredrickson said in her remarks during the public comment section of the meeting. “That is not what our country is about, or at least it shouldn’t be.”

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