Libraries are becoming a battleground for LGBTQ+ people

Groups of far-right extremists infiltrate the hours of drag queen stories. Library boards are voting to remove books with queer and transgender narratives. Online trolls stalk librarians’ personal social media accounts and call them “sex groomers”.

There has been a rapid escalation in LGBTQ-related attacks on libraries in recent months, turning usually quiet public spaces into political battlegrounds at a time of growing hostility against queer and trans people. In the past two weeks alone, members of the Proud Boys have disrupted Pride-themed events at libraries in North Carolina, Indiana, Texas, Nevada and California, prompted by accounts of far-right social media outlets like LibsOfTikTok that display event locations. for their hundreds of thousands of followers.

Across the country, advocacy groups and individual community members are fighting for their local libraries with some success. In Texas, a community managed to prevent the group from disrupting the event, as reported by Buzzfeed News. A similar event in California last week was able to continue after the local police defused the situation. But in other states protesting the events, the far-right group is pushing advocates to use library spaces to take cover from armed protesters.

“When I got there, I could see we were outnumbered,” Angie Kahney, a local activist who showed up at an event at the Hanover County Public Library in Carolina, told Motherboard. North. “There were five families there at the time, and [Proud Boys] were right next to the library door. I saw these protesters follow young children and their parents out of the library into the parking lot [lot] and their cars. The demonstrators were within a few meters of the children. It was horrible and the duty officers did nothing.

Kahney is part of a local activist group called NHC Educational Justice, which advocates for transparent decision-making in schools. She and several other defenders heard rumors of a possible Proud Boys protest at the event and went to the library that day to monitor the situation. She said library staff and event attendees were under the impression that protesters would not enter the building.

Kahney and other members of the organization say the local sheriff’s department twisted the incident into a Press releasenoting that the deputies did not respond to the call for trouble.

“I think people have the impression that law enforcement will always do the right thing, but that’s not always true,” she added.

It’s not just about in-person attacks. Librarians say they increasingly face online harassment from specific accounts being tracked down and labeled as “toilets” – a catch-all phrase that has recently been adopted by far-right extremists to accuse without ground LGBTQ+ people and their allies from pedophilia and child abuse. But it’s hard to know When Online Attacks Warrant Law Enforcement— especially when large parts of the LGBTQ+ community have a deep and historic mistrust of the police.

“To be very frank, we are a national organization and we rely on local authorities to protect libraries and librarians,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association (ALA ), at Motherboard. “We will work with libraries and our state chapters to address local situations to the best of our ability and engage in advocacy where we can. But we have to rely on local authorities, local elected officials to do what is necessary and we do what we can to encourage them.

A librarian who was targeted recently and asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal describes the experience as deeply disturbing.

“It was very upsetting at first when it happened…I had never been called a sex groomer or a pedophile before,” they told Motherboard. “Some of it came from local individuals, which made me very nervous for my safety. You don’t know how intense people are [offline].”

The Librarian said more activity tends to happen around large conferences, especially when librarians share their professional expertise.

“People who claim to care about [pedophilia] make the term almost meaningless because they call everyone a groomer now,” they added. “It seems like a weird thing to do if you really care about it as a crime so it has no weight or meaning.”

Recent attacks have contributed to a growing conflict within the library community over the role of librarians in representing and protecting marginalized communities. During a recent panel discussion at the ALA’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., comments were made suggesting that pro-Holocaust books should have space on library shelves. This has sparked outrage from a growing number of librarians who are critical of what they have called the contradictory stance the ALA has taken on book bans –condemn hate while maintaining the traditional values ​​of neutrality.

The dispute comes amid a wave of efforts to ban books on racial and LGBTQ+ topics from school libraries and bookstores across the United States. The motherboard has already reported the groups trying to get LGBTQ+ books removed from school librariesand trustees exercising their power to influence school board votes on book bans.

Most recently, a Smithtown, Long Island board of trustees voted to remove all pride displays and children’s books with LGBTQ+ themes from all Smithtown Public Library buildings. The move prompted a swift reaction within the local community and was condemned by New York Governor Kathy Hochul, forcing the council to quickly issue a mea culpa.

“Like other public libraries across the country, I believe the force of reaction [to] this situation [at Smithtown Public Library] shows that people are paying attention and getting involved,” Darla Salva Cruz, youth services consultant for the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, told Motherboard.

Three other NYC library systems besides Smithtown also reversed their decisions ban LGBTQ book displays sections of their children around the same time. But recent events have advocates questioning whether libraries are truly prepared to keep the LGBTQ community safe.

“We think there are safe areas in the country where things like this wouldn’t happen, but it hits different when you realize it can happen anywhere,” Cruz said.

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