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Campaign to remove LGBTQ+ books from public libraries reaches Sonoma County

The local incident follows heightened efforts to restrict children and youth’s access to books, especially those about queer protagonists and people of color, across the U.S. last year.|

A religious group’s campaign to remove books with LGBTQ+ themes from public libraries has spread to the Rohnert Park-Cotati Regional Library.

Earlier this month, a patron checked out all of the books in the branch’s Pride Month display, part of what anti-censorship advocates said is an ongoing national crusade to inhibit children and young people’s access to books about queer individuals and people of color.

Sonoma County Pride and Positive Images, two local organizations that advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, said they were dismayed upon learning what happened.

“This is an attempt to impose personal beliefs and, in this case, religious beliefs on an entire community, which is fundamentally un-American,” said Nora Pelizzari, a spokesperson for the National Coalition Against Censorship. “One of the founding principles of the United States of America is free speech and free expression, and that includes the right to inquire and seek information.”

The incident at the Rohnert Park library branch is believed to be in line with CatholicVote, a conservative political advocacy group based in Wisconsin, that launched its “Hide the Pride” campaign at the start of June.

According to the group’s website, it is encouraging people to check-out books that are part of public libraries’ Pride Month displays in order to “empty local taxpayer-funded libraries of progressive sex- and gender-related content aimed at children.”

An accompanying handout warns parents that certain titles with LGBTQ+ themes “push eroticism, glorify LGBTQ identities, undermine parental rights, and are 100% contrary to the Church’s teaching on love and sexuality.”

Two photos published by the group June 15 were taken at the Rohnert Park-Cotati Regional Library, Sonoma County Library spokesperson Ray Holley said.

The photos were included in a post on the CatholicVote website about “Hide the Pride” participants who “have reported their successes.”

One of the photos shows four large stacks of books on a checkout counter that includes, “Who is RuPaul?” a story about well-known drag queen and TV show judge RuPaul, as well as “I am Jazz,” a book about a transgender child.

The other picture shows an empty bookshelf, which was nearly identical to a photograph provided by Holley taken by library staff after a large quantity of books were checked out earlier this month from the Rohnert Park branch’s Pride Month display.

Citing concerns about patron privacy, he declined to say what day the books were checked out or provide the exact number of books the person borrowed.

Holley said the display was restocked with new books after the person left.

“If it’s true, that someone did this in order to limit access to information, that’s unfortunate,” he said, adding that he isn’t aware of any similar incidents involving Pride Month displays happening at other local library branches.

The county’s library system will report the incident to the American Library Associations’ Office for Intellectual Freedom, which tracks attempts to censor books and other materials from schools, universities and libraries.

The office has received several reports this month from public libraries of people who have checked out all the books in Pride Month displays, said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the office’s director. She could not provide a specific number of reports Thursday.

Last year, the organization counted 729 challenges that targeted 1,597 individual books, up from 156 involving 273 books in 2020. In 2019, the association recorded 377 challenges to 566 books.

Of the books that made the association’s list of “10 Most Challenged Titles” last year, most were stories in which people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community are main characters.

“To be told your books can’t be on display or that your books are inappropriate because they simply reflect your life and experiences … it’s not only an act of censorship but an act of violence to the community,” Caldwell-Stone said.

Pelizzari, the National Coalition Against Censorship spokesperson, said the recent rise in challenges to books is largely being driven by conservative interest groups who seek to “fan the flames of a culture war” under the guise of concerns over children’s safety.

While parents have a right to monitor the content their children read, recent trends instead show “a coordinated campaign to control what everyone’s kids are reading.”

“And when you start labeling books that tell stories of queer characters to children ... as dangerous, you’re also labeling queer kids as dangerous,” Pelizzari said. “You’re saying that people who read those books or connect with those stories shouldn’t be able to.”

In a statement, Jessica Carroll, director of programs for Positive Images, said limiting access to information is antithetical to the mission of a library. The organization is confident the local library system will continue to serve as a resource for young people seeking age-appropriate LGBTQ+ books, she said.

Sonoma County Pride President Christopher Kren-Mora said the incident was an example of why pride celebrations are needed in the face of “shame and fear that is still prevalent in today's society.”

“This further solidifies our goal to educate and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community,” Kren-Mora said.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   

 

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