Kansas librarians say they were fired for ‘promoting LGBTQ+ agendas’ with rainbow autism display

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

Two Kansas librarians have reported that they were fired for a rainbow-coloured display celebrating neurodiversity because it was mistakenly believed to be promoting LGBTQ+ Pride.

Sterling’s Carnegie Library director Kari Wheeler and her assistant, Brandy Lancaster filed a lawsuit on Tuesday (12 September) accusing the Sterling Public Library’s eight-member board, the city of Sterling and its mayor of violating their freedom of speech.

Presented to the US District Court of Kansas, the 30-page complaint alleged that one of the board members, Michelle Miller, orchestrated a campaign to censor their autism advocacy display as she mistakenly believed that the librarians were promoting “LGBTQ agendas”.

One display, created in June, included rainbow colours forming an infinity symbol, separated by a heart and the words “we all think differently”.

Another depicted a rainbow scarf with the silhouette of a child in a wheelchair and a Maya Angelou quote reading: “In diversity is beauty and strength.”

Following their creation, a temporary library employee allegedly informed Lancaster that she was “offended” by the multicoloured infinity symbol, which she thought was about LGBTQ+ Pride. Lancaster corrected her, noting that it was a logo that depicted both neurodiversity and autism, only to receive a rebuttal of an “anti-gay story about conflict in her family”, according to the lawsuit.

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The same employee sent a text to Miller, who told her that she could use the board to force the two librarians to remove it from the display, vowing via text that “we’re not going to have that display up because I will rally the board members to call [Wheeler] to take it down”, The Washington Post reported.

Miller then proceeded to text Wheeler, saying that she had noticed the display and did “not want any kind of rainbow display (aside from solely colours focused) especially in this month”, referencing Pride Month.

“We have a conservative town and as a library do not need to make political statements”, Miller reportedly said.

“I certainly do not want the library to promote LGBTQ agendas.”

Another city employee allegedly sent Wheeler a picture of the child in the wheelchair against a rainbow background, telling Wheeler that the autism infinity logo made her “sick to her stomach” and she would stop bringing her child to the library if the display remained up, according to the lawsuit.

The next day, a board meeting was called in which the two librarians reminded the board members of the state laws prohibiting the censorship of library materials “because of viewpoint”.

Another board meeting in early July saw Wheeler and Lancaster fired after a 22-minute vote, the lawsuit alleges.

LGBTQ+ rights and freedoms across the US are currently under attack by right-wing lawmakers. In 2023 alone, over 550 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in the US according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Schools and libraries have been key battlegrounds in the Republican war on LGBTQ+ rights, with right-wing legislators targeting books that include LGBTQ+ themes and characters, and the LGBTQ+ Pride flag.

In this week alone, two California school districts voted to ban the display of LGBTQ+ Pride flags.