Christian mayor withholds $100,000 from libraries ‘until all homosexual materials are removed’

Gene McGee has been told to stop censoring LGBT+ books

A Mississippi mayor is reportedly withholding vital funding for local libraries unless “homosexual materials” are taken off shelves.

City of Ridgeland mayor Gene McGee has reportedly refused to send $110,000 (£81,400) in already approved city funding to the Madison County Library System because he’s angry that libraries are carrying LGBT+ inclusive books.

Tonja Johnson, executive director for the Madison County Library System, told Mississippi Free Press that she contacted McGee after she noticed that Ridgeland didn’t make its first quarterly payment this year.

McGee reportedly informed her that no payment was going to be issued because the library system contained books that “went against his Christian beliefs”.

“He explained his opposition to what he called ‘homosexual materials’ in the library, that it went against his Christian beliefs, and that he would not release the money as the long as the materials were there,” Johnson said.

Johnson told Mississippi Free Press that the main targets of McGee’s ire were books that touched on LGBT+ identities, themes and stories. She said that McGee specifically demanded the removal of The Queer Bible – a collection of essays written by LGBT+ icons about queer people and issues.

She explained that the library system serves the “entire community” and “reflects the diversity of our community”. But apparently, McGee was unmoved. He reportedly told Johnson that the libraries can “serve whoever we wanted, but that he only serves the great Lord above”.

McGee told PinkNews that he was “just responding to complaints by citizens about the material being displayed in the library”.

He was reportedly absent from a board meeting at Ridgeland Library which specifically addressed the library system’s current collection, and the board unanimously voted to bring the issue to the alderman’s board should it continue.

Attendees questioned Bob Sanders, counsel for the library board, if the mayor had the legal authority to override the contract with the library system.

“Uh, no,” Sanders said.

According to Mississippi Free Press, the funds which McGee is withholding represents roughly five per cent of the Madison County Library System’s entire annual budget.

Johnson explained that the money is generally split between purchasing materials, supporting programmes and paying staff salaries, among other areas.

She warned that the loss of the vital funding would “definitely impact services” and could result in job losses if the “board is not able to move funding from something else to keep those positions open”.

Johnson said it was her job to make sure that everybody as access to the “information and resources that they need”. She added that LGBT+ books aren’t just for the queer community but for everyone to be able to develop “empathy and respect for someone else”.

“And I think it’s important to understand that LGBTQ+ books are materials are not just for the LGBT community,” Johnson said. “Those books are for all of us: whether we can see ourselves reflected in those materials or so that we can develop understanding, empathy and respect for someone else.”

Conservatives have long tried to ban books that address LGBT+ issues, gender identity, race and sex.

Last year, Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia’s largest district, pulled two books – Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison and Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe – from high school libraries after complaints they had sexually explicit and “homoerotic” content.

Just a few weeks later, the Texas Tribune reported that Republican lawmakers in the state had launched an investigation into whether schools were stocking copies of nearly 850 books related to race and sexuality after the school districts faced backlash from parents.

In October, there were reports that Wyoming prosecutors had considered filing criminal “obscenity” charges against public librarians who decided to keep books about sex and LGBT+ issues on shelves.