Trump-supporting town could force local library to close over a book about trans people

Two Kansas librarians say they were fired for a rainbow display on neurodiversity after it was mistakenly believed to be about LGBTQ Pride.

Residents of a town in Washington are preparing to vote on whether to shut their local library rather than allow it to offer a book about trans people. 

Those living in Dayton, Columbia County, where more than 70 per cent of people voted for Trump in the last election, will decide in November whether to shut the library over a dispute about What’s the T? by British author Juno Dawson, The Seattle Times reported.

Although censorship of LGBTQ+ books is surging across the US, the Columbia County Library would be the first to close down over which books are stocked on the shelves, according to the American Library Association (ALA).

Opponents of What’s the T? are represented by Dayton resident Jessica Ruffcorn, who told The Seattle Times the library is “targeting kids with sexualised content”.

Ruffcorn and a small number of other parents reportedly asked the library to move the book – a guide to trans and non-binary identities aimed at teenagers – from the children and young adult section of the library, claiming it is “not age-appropriate”. 

The Seattle Times reported that the group then asked the library to move “about a dozen” more books away from the children and young adult section, including This Book is Anti-Racist and Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race.

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The former library director, Todd Vandenbark, declined to move the books, stating: “No one has the right to make rules restricting what other people read or use, or to make decisions for other families.”

Vandenbark resigned in June, with his replacement, Ellen Brigham, reportedly creating a new “parenting” section in the library and moving sex education books there. Brigham also reportedly moved the young adult nonfiction books into the adult section. 

“We’re walking a really fine line between listening to people who have arguments and remembering that the majority of people who haven’t said anything still use the library,” Brigham told the newspaper. 

“We have the entire community to serve.”

Ruffcorn reportedly didn’t accept that the books had been moved, and began handing around petitions to shut down the library. 

“We do not trust their motives to move the books,” Ruffcorn told The Seattle Times.

“Now it’s up to unincorporated Columbia County to decide what our community standards are, and whether our library is an asset or a drain on our community.”

There are now enough signatures to move the issue to a November ballot, which will decide if the library stays open.

Local residents Tanya Patton, who served on the library’s board for 14 years, and Deb Fortner are both leading the campaign to save the library.

“The jump from, ‘OK, you won’t move these books,’ to ‘So we’re going to close the only library in the county’ is something I still don’t understand,” Patton told the newspaper.

“Our democratic republic was built on this access to information,” she added. “This isn’t just about Dayton. This is about something bigger. And it honestly terrifies me.”

The ALA tracked 1,269 demands to censor library books in the US in 2022, with the graphic novel Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe topping its list of most complained-about books. 

Despite rising book-banning and censoring in the country, however, some states are fighting back, with a Texas judge ordering books banned for containing LGBTQ+ and racial content to be returned to library shelves.

Dawson, author of What’s the T? and This Book Is Gay, which has also faced several bans, previously spoke out against book-banning, claiming censoring is a “really organised attack on books” by the “far-right”. 

“I just want to say a huge thank you to all the librarians and educators who are defending freedom of speech and the right for young LGBTQ+ people to see themselves in books,” she added.

PinkNews has contacted Columbia County Library for comment.