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Plucky Maine Library Decides Not To Censor Own 'Banned Books' Display
Meta-censorship crisis narrowly averted!
After a brief hubbub and a rather pitched fuck-tussle, the public library in Rumford, Maine (population 5,700 or so), voted not to give in to a request by three local pastors to please remove several books on LGBTQ subjects from its "Banned Books" display. The pastors had sent a letter to the library board fretting the display was "promoting homosexuality" and that the books were "not appropriate for a public area" of the library, where children might see them. Heavens, one of the books even had a cover depicting (in comics form) "two naked ladies on the cover." It is unknown from local media reports whether any livestock in the area became sterile or a baby was born with a caul as a result of the books being on display, although reliable sources indicate a black cat was seen standing on its hind legs, like unto a man.
The display, put up for the American Library Association's annual Banned Books Week (which is actually next week, but Rumford's library has it up all month), drew the ire of pastors Dan Pearson of the Rumford Baptist Church, Justin Thacker of Praise Assembly of God, and Rev. Nathan March of Parish of the Holy Savior, who wrote to let the library board know they were not down with all that sin -- though oddly enough, they seemed only to be worried about the homosin, as their letter doesn't mention 50 Shades Of Grey at all, even though it's almost certainly the most badly written of the bunch. Oh, and sinful, too. Here's the letter, as posted to Facebook by library defender Katrina Ray-Saulis:
We're impressed by the attempt to maintain at least a simulation of reasonableness, like the appeal to how the books would surely offend Muslims, too, if there were any in town. That's a bit weakened by the notion that not freaking out over gay people is a "far left political view." And of course, there's that unfortunate typo in the penultimate paragraph, with the deep concern about the naked lady book being "immodest and inappropriate in a pubic setting," which was probably inevitable given the subject matter.
Ms. Ray-Saulis also says in her Facebook post that one of the pastors -- she didn't say which -- had "verbally expressed that he would like to pursue the destruction of all books regarding homosexuality in the library," which the pastors later denied. The pastors certainly stirred up quite a fuss; the story was the subject of a bulletin from the National Coalition Against Censorship and an article by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which cited the Facebook post about the one guy wanting to destroy all the scary queer books.
The CBLDF piece also noted critical acclaim in the US and Japan for the naked-lady book, the autobiographical comic My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, by Kabi Nagata. It's been named one of the best comics of 2018 by Publisher's Weekly and Amazon, and has been nominated for "Best Manga" in theHarvey Awards , which are like the Oscars but with thought balloons.
Once Monday's public meeting got underway, with about 70 people in attendance, the pastors seemed considerably less fiery. Pearson said they'd assumed the letter would only go to the library board, nice and quiet like.
"I do want to apologize for some of the wording in the letter," he said. "I did not want to alienate the gay community."
We can see how people might be put off by being described as wrong, unfit for the public, and bad for families, yeah.
"I think it was unfortunate it was posted publicly, before we had a chance to have a discussion with this small group or to revise some things in it that created some of the hoopla," Pearson said.
"None of us that signed that are interested in banning or destroying any books. I don't know how that rumor got started. There was concern because a few of the books on the banned book display, front and center, were displaying sexual themes that we thought were not appropriate for children, especially. Displayed prominently up front, when they're coming in there."
Pearson also explained he simply thought the library should be "neutral" on the topic of sex, by which he meant not including any books at all that mention sexuality, by which he clearly must have meant no children's books with straight parents, since one of the banned books was the gay penguin saga And Tango Makes Three. He stumbled over getting all the letters in "LGBTQ" out, then added maybe for balance the library should also set up a display of books with "healthy views—I'm sorry, what we believe would be a more biblical, conservative sexuality." Oh, dear, it is so hard to remember you didn't want to alienate anyone, isn't it?
Thacker said the letter was really only intended "to make a suggestion. You can take it or leave it. It was not meant to be a firestorm," which was nice of him. It'a almost as if the pastors had thought the books could be quietly disappeared, like an unwanted gay son or daughter banished to the big city.
Librarian Mary Ann May Fournier pointed out that, no, the banned books display isn't in a spot where lots of children would encounter it; it's on a separate floor of the library, in the grown-up section, where parents can presumably herd their kids away from the table of evil. She added that in June, for Pride Month, she'd set up a display of LGBTQ-themed books:
"I had 'Two Boys Kissing' and 'My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness' on that display (books also on the banned books display)," she said. "My question is why didn't anyone come to me and complain in June?
"And you want me to hide the LGBTQ books that are like bibles to some of these children. Some of these books are stolen by some of these LGBTQ teens because they don't want their parents to know they're checking them out," she said.
Fournier also said the whole situation had motivated her to finally come out publicly, because she knows what it's like to be a scared gay kid finding solace in books that say you're not alone:
"I don't want to hide. I don't. I hid for a long time and I came out recently because of this," she explained. She is worried about what her conservative father will think, but doesn't want any other child or teen to feel the same shame she did about their identity.
After the hearing, the library trustees voted unanimously to keep the display as is, and all is now peaceful again in Rumford, Maine. One trustee, Linda Macgregor, thanked the pastors for bringing their concerns forward, and for sitting right up front and saying they'd expressed themselves differently. She thought it was a good experience for everyone, saying, "This was really interesting because people used the opportunity to talk about feelings they have not talked about before and needed to."
Son of a gun. That whole New England Town Meeting thing worked out fairly well. Of course, it being a small town in Maine, they'll probably have to deal with killer clowns in the sewers next week.
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