Anti-gay preachers want LGBT books banned—from a display of banned books

Local church leaders tried to censor a library’s display of banned books, in order to remove books referencing homosexuality.

The coalition of preachers took exception to the display at Rumford Public Library in Maine, which marked the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week.

Annual rankings for Banned Books Week are consistently dominated by LGBT-themed books, which still face disproportionate censorship and complaints across the US.

In a bitterly ironic twist, the display standing up against book censorship has itself faced calls for book censorship, after attracting attention from conservative church leaders.

A letter signed by three Rumsford religious leaders complained that the library was “promoting homosexuality,” specifically citing two books on the display, My Lesbian Experience with Lonliness by Kabi Nagata and Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan.

Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing was ranked as the fifth most-banned book in 2016 and has long faced campaigns to ban it, while Nagata’s autobiographical manga was published this year to international acclaim.

The letter also cited “a number of other books in the display promoting homosexuality.”

The other LGBT books present were frequently-banned children’s book And Tango Makes Three, based on the real-life story of a gay penguin couple, and lesbian-themed classic The Color Purple.

The pastors’ letter claimed that the books would have “until recently been considered not only inappropriate but the abuse of children” and are “not appropriate for a public area where children are present.”

The letter continues: “The library should not be promoting a far left political view that sees homosexuality as acceptable,” suggesting that the display was disrespectful towards people with “a conservative and traditional view that sees homosexuality as wrong and to be avoided.”

It was signed by three local pastors; Dan Pearson of Rumsford Baptist Church, Justin Thacker of Praise Assembly of God, and Nathan March of Parish of the Holy Saviour.

Nowhere in the letter did the men object to the BDSM-themed erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey, which was also part of the display, despite their explicit objection to PG-themed children’s books.

The issue came to a head on September 11, at a public library meeting attended by more than 70 people.

Some residents spoke in support of the pastors, while library employee Mary Ann Fournier—who streamed the meeting online—made a speech in defence of the display.

Mary Ann Fournier

Fournier said: “I’ve been coming to this library just about every day since I was five years old, and I now work here.

“Those complaining, you don’t come here. I don’t see you. This is the first time I’ve seen any of you show up to a meeting.

“Where were you when we were talking about what we’re going to do for the troubled kids that come here? Did you know that we feed these kids?

“We feed them breakfast, we feed them lunch, we feed them dinner, we keep them here all day. Do you know how many kids come in from school and say, ‘Mommy’s sleeping,’ so we keep them here and we watch them. [That’s what] the library does.”

Fournier continued to point out misleading and hypocritical claims that were made in support of censoring the display.

She said: “I’m getting frustrated. I’ve been yelled at for doing my job. The library code of ethics says we are not supposed to censor.

“This display, you’re all saying you don’t want it in the eyes of your children. But it’s upstairs in the adult section!

“If you come upstairs to the adult section and you have your child with you, it is up to you to watch what your child is doing.

“I’d like to point out, by the way Fifty Shades of Grey was on that banned book display, and I’ve heard nothing about it. I’ve heard nothing about the Harlequin Romance novels that have may more promiscuity than that lesbian book did.

“Right across from that book display is our large prints section, and on there is a straight couple naked and embracing. We all know what they’re going to do, but there’s no outrage in that.”

She added: “As part of the LGBT community, when you tell me my book belongs in the Dewey Decimal system, that makes me very upset and angry.

“I don’t want to hide. I hid for a long time, and I came out because of this. This is how it came out, and now I’m wondering what my father’s going to think when I go home.

“I do not want any child or teen in this community to feel the shame I have felt this past week.”

She added that the LGBT books are crucial for young queer teens, adding: “Some of these books are stolen by LGBT teens because they don’t want their parents to know they’re checking them out.”

Fournier was loudly cheered for her speech.

After the meeting, the library’s trustees voted unanimously to leave the current display intact.