Lapeer District Library latest target for campaign against LGBTQ+ book
The book, “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” is described by author Maia Kobabe as an “intensely cathartic autobiography” that charts a “journey of self-identity.”
But to Republican Lapeer County Prosecutor John Miller, the book borders on child pornography.
Caught in the middle is Lapeer District Library Director Amy Churchill, who Miller had reportedly threatened to charge with a four-year felony if the book was not removed from the library’s collection.
However, at a meeting of the library board last week, Miller said that his words had been taken out of context by Bridge Michigan, despite the fact he had specifically discussed the criminal code for accosting, enticing or soliciting children for immoral purposes.
“To be clear, my office never contemplated criminal charges against anyone on the library staff,” he said at the meeting, but then added that it was “critically important to protect children from being exploited sexually and to educate Lapeer County citizens on complying with the laws of the state of Michigan.”
Miller emphasized that while he was not advocating for the banning of books that involve LGBTQ+ content, “Gender Queer” was not a book he believed belonged in a public library.
“However, books that encourage children to engage in sexual acts when they’re not the legal age are not appropriate for a public library where children are encouraged, where children are encouraged to explore,” he said.”
But Miller’s effort to remove the book is the latest in a series of right-wing attacks on public libraries and their ability to provide a wide range of material for the communities they serve.
“It seems like there’s just a basic misunderstanding of what a library’s function is,” Michigan Library Association Executive Director Debbie Mikula told the Michigan Advance. “The idea that a library is to serve a community and not just a particular point of view.”
“Gender Queer” was also at the center of the controversy last year that led to the defunding of the Patmos Library in Ottawa County’s Jamestown Township. And just as the association did then, Mikula says they stand in total solidarity with the Lapeer District Library.
“Amy Churchill is clearly the hero in this part of the story,” she said. “She is standing strong and stalwart and responding to what is placed on their plate.”
Churchill said that Miller tried to intimidate the library by sending a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on official Lapeer County Prosecutor’s Office letterhead.
“A FOIA is an extremely aggressive way to communicate with someone,” Churchill told Bridge. “Usually you’d try to talk to them first.”
It’s just the latest conflict involving “Gender Queer,” which the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom named the most challenged library book in America in 2021.
Kobabe, who uses gender neutral pronouns e, em and eir, related to USA Today that one big reason was the fact that it is a graphic novel.
“The fact that it’s an illustrated book makes it more vulnerable to book challenges,” Kobabe said. “It’s very easy for someone to quickly flip through the book and find two or three pages they might disagree with without having to sit down and read the whole thing.”
At particular issue with “Gender Queer” is an illustration of a 14-year-old Kobabe fantasizing about an intimate encounter with an older man. It’s based on a scene portrayed on an ancient Greek pottery cup of “a courting scene.”
Many of those who spoke in favor of the book at last week’s meeting said the outrage about the book has more to do with its LGBTQ+ theme than with concerns about protecting children from inappropriate material.
Many have pointed to the lack of objection to the library’s copy of “The Joy of Sex,” the 1972 illustrated manual of heterosexual positions and techniques by British author Alex Comfort.
“How do you read, ‘The Joy of Sex?’” asked Mikula. “How do you read, ‘Gender Queer?’ You know, everybody has a different take. There’s a lot of people reading different things, and it matters to them that they have a choice of what to read.”
Mikula pointed to the so-called “Miller Test” when it comes to determining obscene material. Arising out of the 1973 U.S Supreme Court decision in Miller vs. California, it upheld the right for states to regulate material, but only if it met three criteria; “(a) whether ‘the average person, applying contemporary community standards’ would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
“So taken as a whole, not that one page that might have a description on it,” said Mikula. “Or not this one paragraph. It’s the work as a whole.The prosecuting attorney or others that are in the room, who are angry that this book is in the library; those are personal opinions. But that doesn’t mean that the book is not something that someone in the LGBTQ+ community or a BIPOC or a woman needs or wants to read. And that’s their choice.”
Mikula says while any particular book may not be the right fit for one person, it still may be the perfect fit for another.
“No one should make those kinds of sweeping decisions that take that process of careful consideration away from librarians, who are highly educated and have great collection development policies. So it’s important to remember that these are our First Amendment rights. Intellectual freedom is a core value of the library profession, and it’s a basic right in our democratic society.”
Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan, told the Advance that the group “stands with Amy Churchill.
LGBTQ+ community, people of color in the crosshairs of banned book movement
“Libraries have long been a place of refuge for LGBTQ+ people, this is especially true for people who are coming to terms with their sexuality,” Knott added. “Libraries are safe and inclusive places where LGBTQ+ people can seek out information and stories that are reflective of who they are, and that representation matters.”
Currently, the book is under review after being objected to by several residents. Churchill has 75 days to respond and make a ruling, after which, library policy says a written appeal can be made “to the Chair of the Library Board within ten (10) business days after the written decision is made by the Library Director.”
From there, the library board has 60 days to review any documentation it deems necessary to make a final decision.
“The Library Board serves as the final authority in cases involving retention or withdrawal of Library Materials,” states the policy.
That same policy also notes that the responsibility for the reading material for children rests with their parents or legal guardians.
“Selection shall not be inhibited solely by the possibility that books may inadvertently come into the possession of children,” it states. “The Library respects each individual parent’s right to supervise his/her children’s choice of reading materials. However, the Library does not have the right to act in loco parentis (in place of the parent). Therefore, a parent who chooses to restrict the materials his/her children select must accompany those children when they use the collection in order to impose those restrictions.”