Campbell County Library Board Denies Request to Move Book About Sex and LGBTQ Topics

Chair, citing censorship concerns, declares book “pushes people to think” and “that’s a piece of having a library”

"This Book is Gay" is one of 27 books over which Campbell County citizens have filed complaints with the library in Gillette. The board recently voted to keep the book on homosexuality in the library's young adult section. (Courtesy photo)

By Shen Wu Tan

Special to the Wyoming Truth

The Campbell County Library Board this week rejected a formal appeal to have a book about LGBTQ issues and sex removed from the Gillette library’s young adult section.

Colleen Faber, a county commissioner who runs a cattle ranching operation, had asked the board during its Oct. 25 meeting to remove “This Book is Gay,” by Juno Dawson, one of several books that has stirred up controversy in Gillette and prompted one couple to file a complaint to the sheriff against the library. A county prosecutor announced Oct. 27 that he would not pursue charges.

Hollie Stewart, a pediatrician in Gillette, chairs the Campbell County Library Board. She says “This Book is Gay” pushes people to think, and I think that’s a piece of having a library.” (Courtesy photo)

Library board members Hollie Stewart and Charlie Anderson voted against Faber’s request to remove the book, while board members Miranda Finn and Mandy Steward voted for its removal. Since a motion needs a majority to pass, the appeal was denied. The board’s fifth member, Nancy Stovall, was absent.

“There are people in the community who have vociferously voiced their support for this book, and it’s staying where it is,” said Stewart, the library board’s chair. “This is a book that pushes people to think, and I think that’s a piece of having a library.”

Colleen Faber of the Campbell County Board of Commissioners says “This Book is Gay” is obscene and violates community standards. (Courtesy photo)

Stewart also referred to legal precedents in other communities where library books have been moved in similar situations, saying it could be viewed as censorship. She cited a Texas case where a library board was sued for moving a book similar to “This Book is Gay,” which evolved into a costly legal battle. The book eventually was returned to the young adult section, she said.

“My concern is if we move the book, we may have actual legal challenges that we as a community are going to have to be fiscally responsible for,” Stewart said. “If we move this book to the adult section, a kid could still feasibly go get it. So, it’s not actually changing whether or not it could possibly be read by a child without parental supervision.”

Faber said she appealed to the library board as a citizen and not as an elected member of the Campbell County Board of Commissioners, who appoints library board members and oversees the library’s budget.

“Yes, I felt I went as a citizen and library patron, and of course I also serve as a commissioner,” Faber said, “so there is a little bit of an odd dynamic to my challenge; however, I never made it about my commissioner role.”

Faber had submitted a complaint about “This Book is Gay” in August. She argued the book is obscene, violates contemporary community standards and mostly contains adult content that is inappropriate for children, citing a chapter about a 16-year-old losing his “gay virginity” to an older, married man.

“This book I would say is highly risky, and some of the behaviors it seems to encourage for youngsters would warrant it should be in the adult section, where definitely parental guidance over looking over those materials would be, in my opinion, very valuable and important,” Faber told the library board members.

She noted books have been removed completely from libraries across Wyoming over concerns about age appropriateness.

“At the end of the day, I think we need to put our kids first,” Faber said. “We want to restore decent library materials rather than trying to turn a blind eye. And removing certain books or changing where they are housed due to age appropriateness is about showing discretion and respecting a community’s values. “That doesn’t prevent people from getting these books.”

Anderson, the library board member who voted no on Faber’s request, said community standards have changed significantly since 1973 when many states, including Wyoming, criminalized LGBTQ activities. He said these activities are no longer considered criminal.

“So, the environment for civil rights is very different,” he said. “I think our community standards have to be seen as being very positive and very inclusive to everybody. I think that’s what they are.”

Terri Lesley, executive director of the Campbell County Public Library, said at the meeting that parents can oversee what their children check out at the library. She said parents can monitor what their minor children check out by linking their library cards and using the Wyoming Library Databases app. If parents don’t like to use apps, Lesley said, they can visit the library’s circulation desk and request a printout of their children’s selections.

Regarding the challenged book, Lesley said the library aims to have balanced collections that present all perspectives of the human experience. She added “This Book is Gay” is well reviewed by professional library journals and acts as an informational resource about LGBTQ sexuality, gender identification and various types of sexual activity. Although the book includes depictions of sexual organs, Lesley said they are illustrated in cartoon style.

“The book is written as an informational resource for adolescents,” she said. “Transferring the book to another part of the library is in effect removing it from the audience for which it is intended and considered censorship.”

The Campbell County Public Library has received six other complaints, or “book reconsideration” forms, for “This Book is Gay,” Lesley said. Two of the forms are identical but have different names listed.

Five other libraries in Wyoming carry the book: Fremont County, Park County, Sublette County, Natrona County and Teton County, according to Finn, the board member.

Hugh Bennett, a Gillette resident and magazine publisher who attended the meeting, said at previous meetings some people have been shouted down for reading excerpts from objectionable books. “If we as adults are unwilling to hear it in public,” he asked, “how can we in good conscience provide it for kids that should be supervised by their adults?” Bennett and his wife Susan, a retired schoolteacher, had filed a complaint with the sheriff’s office about the library carrying books accessible to children about sex and LGBTQ topics.

Bennett added, “Not all families as the LGBTQ lobby tells us are the same, and not all parents have the ability to monitor their children’s actions as well as they should.”

The library is juggling a growing list of book challenges. Numerous complaints have been submitted for 27 different books, according to Lesley.

At the end of the two-and-a-half-hour meeting Oct. 25, library board members discussed a possible way to address this issue.

Library board members voted unanimously to establish a committee to explore creating a parenting section for the young adult department. Finn suggested “This Book is Gay” could possibly be moved to this new parenting section upstairs.

When asked about the idea, Faber said she would be all right with that option and is encouraged by it.

“I think it’s extremely important we protect the innocence of children,” she said. “If we can’t protect the innocence of our children, I just don’t know where we’re at as a society. And that line keeps getting pushed.”

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