PORTSMOUTH—Community members gathered to voice concerns about a recent display at the Portsmouth Public Library.
The PPL’s most recent board meeting hosted community members on all sides of the polarizing discussion. The display in question, which featured Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) inclusive children’s books, was formerly featured in the youth services area of the library. Literature for children of all developmental stages included frank discussions of gender identity, physical anatomy, and inclusion for those of all ages within the LGBTQ+ community.
The display was intended to offer children’s literature that corresponded with June being Pride Month—a month that observes years of struggle for civil rights and the ongoing pursuit of equal justice under the law for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community, as well as the accomplishments of LGBTQ individuals.
PPL was in the process of dismantling the display due to complaints when a single patron checked out all of the books featured.
Patrons for and against the display gathered to share several points regarding the display and its removal. Portsmouth Mayor Sean Dunne thanked the board for their time and urged them to come to a decision patiently, after fully considering the public remarks delivered.
“I think a lot of these materials that kids are now being presented with makes kids more comfortable with who they are,” said Mayor Dunne. “And at the end of the day if there’s people who don’t share those feelings, then they don’t have to read it. But if they do want to read it, they can hear about the experiences of another kid. The development of things like knowledge and empathy—the things that libraries, schools, families, friends and so forth can do for young kids.”
Many in support of the display made public note of statistics that suggest that children within the LGBTQIA+ community are disproportionately impacted by suicide and suicidal thoughts due to societal ostracization. Violence against those within the LGBTQIA+ community was also noted by Dunne.
“We’re now in a context in which we’ve seen threats of extreme violence at a number of different social events, social rallies, where stakes are pretty high here,” Dunne continued. “One of the things I think we can do to avoid violence and threats of violence is to encourage knowledge and empathy of other people’s situations. This is a very serious situation we’re finding ourselves in when people are showing up at events armed with automatic weapons just for people expressing who they are.”
Commissioner Bryan Davis joined those opposed to the display during the public remarks, implying that since the library is funded by tax dollars, “inappropriate” material for children should not be displayed.
“Today I speak not only as a County Commissioner but as a church pastor, a father, and a grandfather,” Davis said. When I learned of the placement of a Pride display consisting of age-inappropriate books containing subject matter that young children should not have access to, I was disappointed and frankly very surprised,” said Davis.
Davis went on to explain that the issue for him had nothing to do with the queer community, but what is purchased by the library for consumption by children.
“Since this display came to light I have been approached by many citizens angered and wondering what to do about it,” Davis explained. “Many have said that they will never support the library again. Of course the Portsmouth Public Library, in addition to other sources of revenue, is levy-supported. And that support comes from the taxpayers in Scioto County. With state cuts and the erosion of public trust, I fear for the future of the library’s system.”
Davis said that the purchase of such literature “push[es] an agenda not supported by the majority of the citizens.”
Multiple points were heard from residents who did not support the content of the display, but who also noted that they did not support suppression of materials, instead suggesting that materials be held in a separate area, or alluding to the necessity of parental consent when checking out such materials.
Concerned citizen Russell Porter said, “I do not agree with the display, the material. But I also don’t agree with censorship. I think because this is a tax-funded organization, the placement of that display and the material is proving some legitimacy to this subject.”
For Bennie Blevins, a local pastor who attended the event, the issue is far more dire than displaying books which could potentially offend.
“As a gay man and a native of Portsmouth, I felt compelled to be here. I feel like everybody in that room had an opinion whether they want to admit it or not. We often think that an agenda is a bad thing, but I came because my agenda is to point out that the library is a place for everybody. It’s a public library. Everybody needs to be included. I understand that this display has caused a lot of controversy, but I feel like also as a pastor, the people who were saying ‘I’m a Christian,” their views are just as important as someone who isn’t, or someone who may have a different faith. We have young people who are LGBTQ+, who may be struggling with identifying with who they are—and maybe they are confused, but maybe they’re looking for a way to figure things out.”
“When I was a kid growing up in this area, homosexuality was not mentioned. It was something that was taboo. The public library was the place that I went to find myself. The first book that made me feel not so alone was Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’,” Blevins said.
During the meeting, the PPL’s board did not answer questions from the public and stated a decision regarding the display and its policies moving forward would not be made at the meeting. The next board meeting is scheduled for July 19 at noon.
Reach Kasie McCreary at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931 or by email at [email protected]
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