Library board in Oklahoma bans some book displays, programs with LGBTQ slant | Don’t Miss This

ENID, Okla. — A library board in a north-central Oklahoma city followed through on proposals banning sex- and gender-related book displays and programs with two votes at the end of a 2½-hour meeting this week.

The Public Library of Enid and Garfield County’s board of directors voted 3-2 in favor of the two proposals, as questions linger on how library staff would interpret the policy changes.

As the proposals read, library exhibits no longer will promote books and programs wouldn’t promote topics focused on “the study of sex, sexual activity, sexual perversion, sex-based classifications, sexual preferences, sexual identity, gender identity or that are of a sexual nature.”

The decisions followed another contentious debate at a library board meeting between members of the public for and against book displays and programs largely intended for LGBTQ patrons.

Board Chair Joseph Fletcher said the policies reflected the idea that sex and sexuality are private topics, but don’t ban or limit access to books and materials already in the library.

Fletcher drafted the approved proposals that were considered alongside an alternate pair of policy proposals drafted by library staff.

“No public institution should inundate its visitors with issues of sex and sexuality when they walk in,” Fletcher said. “Frankly, most people just don’t want to see it, and especially in a venue so heavily used by children.”

Board member Kitty Herbel, a teacher who voted against Fletcher’s proposals, said she was concerned about including “gender identity” in the policy.

“If we go through with this vote, there is going to be no displays, ever,” Herbel said. “We may really want to reconsider how we word this, or there will be no displays. And if you’ve been in the library without displays on the shelves, it’s a tad boring.”

The library’s interim director said that in accordance with the new exhibit policy, the library no longer will have a display marking national LGBTQ Pride Month each June — when policies over the library’s book displays last came before the public eye.

“I certainly believe that is the intention” of the new policies, interim director Theri Ray said Monday afternoon.

The Enid library’s director or deputy director is responsible for overseeing and approving any displays, programs or meetings in accordance to the policy, which set by the board.

Current library programs likely would be left untouched, including an 18-and-older book club on adult romance novels set to begin meeting April 21, called Shameless Book Club, and an all-inclusive teen book club called HomoSapiens United.

“It is not necessarily singing out a lifestyle. It’s about diversity and inclusion,” Ray said about the teen club. “Because the subject of the book club is not about sex or sex-based classifications or preference, my interpretation is that the book club can continue to meet.”

Board members determined Monday with Enid’s city attorney that the adult book club and an upcoming program from the YWCA Enid on sexual assault prevention would be allowed.

The library would also still allow organizations such as the Enid LGBTQ Coalition to continue to meet in the building, as the library’s meeting policy was not changed, Ray said.

Ray said board chair Fletcher had brought both proposals to discuss at March’s board meeting, but they were moved to Monday because they weren’t already on last month’s agenda, as per state open meeting laws.

She said the language was pulled from the initial draft of Oklahoma Senate Bill 1142, a bill making its way through the state Legislature that would ban the same stated sexual/gender content from schools and school libraries. The bill went through several amended versions to remove phrases such as “sexual perversion,” “gender identity,” etc.

During a similarly heated board meeting last July, while discussing the Pride Month display, board members had asked library staff how displays are determined and were told that they could amend library policy in the future.

About 80 people again crowded the same room Monday, to which board members moved following a vote to change locations from the smaller, nearby Red Earth Room. Several attendees, mostly children, were then asked to leave the room to accommodate fire code occupancy regulations, rather than again moving locations or rescheduling the meeting.

Fletcher and other board members said the policies weren’t targeting one specific group of people, but over a dozen members of the public said they, their loved ones and others in Enid would feel marginalized as members or allies of the local LGBTQ community.

Several attendees also pointed to a study released last week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 1 in 4 LGBTQ youth — twice the national average — reportedly attempted suicide in the first half of 2021.

Stephanie Ezzell, an Enid resident who identified herself as a bisexual woman with an LGBTQ child, said the library’s programs and resources help combat prejudice, stereotype and discrimination in visitors.

“You’re coming for my child, and I’m not OK with that,” she said. “Please allow my child and myself the same representation as everyone else.”

Members of the community in favor of the proposals also pointed out that books with apparently sexual content weren’t being outright banned from shelves, but just removed from the eyes of children coming into the library.

Enid family counselor Lacy Crowell pointed to 2019 CDC data showing that STD cases among teens and young adults ages 15-24 accounted for over half of all US cases, which are reaching an all-time high for a sixth year.

“You are the social fabric of this society. You are not here to promote an agenda, for or against something. Therefore, it is OK to have parameters,” Kristi Orr told board members. “I do not believe in banning books. I’m here to say that exhibits should be G-rated.”

But Mary McDonald, a retired high school English teacher, argued that children’s parents, not the library, should be responsible for what media they consume.

“I know you’re not saying you’re not banning, it’s not censorship — it is censorship,” she said. “What’s the next thing that gets censored?”

Attendees such as Tyler Turpin called upon biblical scripture or Christianity as to why the books shouldn’t be displayed out of fear of indoctrination.

“Let them be kids. Don’t try to form their minds into thinking something. Let them be kids,” he said, before listing several Bible verses he said stated that homosexuality was a sin.

Fern Boyle, who home-schools her children, said teaching her children their family’s conservative Christian values ​​gets harder when they come to the library and see a display “they cannot avoid.”

“I’m just asking that this information isn’t put out right front and center when we come in to the library, just like I’m not gonna say please put out something promoting heterosexuality or conservative Christianity,” Boyle said.

Kristin Oney, a youth pastor at First United Methodist Church, said a child is unsure about their sexuality or gender identity is going to be uncomfortable asking for a book if displays are banned.

“My plea as a Christian and a youth pastor is to fill the gap, where this isn’t supported,” she told board members. “And your programming helps that. Don’t take that away from them.”

ACLU Policy Director Cindy Nguyen said the policies were adding to an increasingly negative environment for LGBTQ people in Oklahoma with the recent passages of various legislation.

“It is already difficult if not impossible for young 2SLGBTQ+ people to find safety,” Nguyen said. “These bans are not about sports or books. It is about excluding 2SLGBTQ+ people from every single aspect of public life.”

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