Pride Month has come to an end, and Colchester First Selectman Andreas Bisbikos decided to celebrate by demanding that a book about RuPaul be pulled from the shelves of the children’s section at the Cragin Memorial Library.
Bisbikos, a Republican, told library director Kate Byroade to remove the book following a parent complaint that he had received. She admirably held her ground as librarians do, pointing to the established library policy and process about book challenges. Bisbikos settled for the book being displayed at the library desk while it was under review, and instructed librarians to conduct an “inventory” of the over 20,000 books in the children’s section. He posted a statement about this on his Facebook page, where things did not go well for him in the comments.
Following an absolute drenching deluge of criticism from people in Colchester and around the country, the first selectman backpedaled, stating that his action was “never about censorship,” that his office “plays no role in what books are purchased and displayed in our library,” and that he was just responding to parent concerns.
Connecticut Library Association president Douglas Lord, who is also director of the Cyrenius H. Booth Library in Newtown, defended Byroade and blasted Bisbikos’s “egregious act of governmental overreach,” characterizing it as “an attack on the first amendment rights of Colchester’s residents to access free speech in the library.”
It’s a strong statement, and a welcome one, because this controversy about a library book in a Connecticut town is not happening in a vacuum.
Books are being challenged or outright banned in libraries and public schools across the country in record numbers, driven by right-wing outrage about the teaching of racism and LGBTQ people and identies. An alarming percentage of the books being challenged or banned right now feature people of color or LGBTQ people as protagonists, and/or have themes about race, racism, sexuality, or gender identity.
This is all happening because the right-wing media machine has been busy generating hysteria and outrage about children being “indoctrinated” by “woke” ideas in schools and elsewhere. In some extreme cases people these frothing bigots have decided to hate are being labeled as “groomers,” or pedophiles. It’s nauseating, it’s dangerous, and it has real-world consequences.
Florida’s new “Don’t Say Gay” law, which has prompted school districts to come up with horrifying policies like telling parents when a child who is “open about their gender identity” is going on overnight school trips and telling LGBTQ teachers not to wear rainbow-colored clothing or have pictures of a same-sex spouse on their desks, is a direct consequence of this hateful rhetoric. The cover story Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hides behind is a familiar one: he’s just trying to protect young children from being exposed to what he and others see as harmful ideas.
Don’t fall for that cynical old lie. There’s no evidence that learning about families with same-sex spouses or different gender identities does anything to children except make them more aware and understanding of the world around them.
There’s a long history of bigots and homophobes using children as props in their war on LGBTQ people. In the past, for instance, gay men especially were painted as sex predators, which fueled panic, suspicion, and hate. In 1977 Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” organization spread insidious, baseless rumors that LGBTQ people were “recruiting” in schools, among other dangerous myths.
But there’s no way to stir up a panic like pointing at something or someone and saying they’re harmful to children.
Public and school libraries are always right on the front line when bigots try to throw ideas and people they don’t like into the trash. It’s not a surprise that book challenges are growing now, in this climate of hatred and fear. Thankfully we have librarians, who are professionals dedicated to the free and open flow of information and ideas, to help hold the line. I’ve been a librarian for most of my adult life, and I’ve never been prouder of my profession.
But librarians can’t do this alone. We all need to be aware of what’s happening in our own towns and cities, and we must never let bigots go unchallenged. This, and not censorship, is the example we must set for our children.