There is a legendary part of Dee Snider’s testimony at the 1985 Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) Congressional Hearing which I feel is relevant almost forty years later. Tipper Gore, wife of former Vice President Al, alleged that the song Under the Blade by Twisted Sister was about sadomasochism, bondage, and rape. In the halls of Congress, Mr. Snider said that his band’s song was about “surgery, and the fear that it instills in people” and that “the only sadomasochism, bondage, and rape in this song is in the mind of Ms. Gore.”
Art is interpreted by its audience and if Ms. Gore interpretted the song sexually, that says more about her than anybody else. In psychological circles this phenomenon is referred to as “projection.” A good literary example of this is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Kids read it as an exciting dystopian hero’s tale while their parents read it as a horrific and disturbing tale of state sponsored child-on-child murder. The difference is kids are not married with children and do not think of their peers in the same loving, familial way that parents think of their own children. Different life, different reading experience. With that in mind, let’s talk about some recent challenges to the First Amendment across our country right now.
San Lorenzo, CA
The first news case I would like to address is out of Alameda County, CA at the San Lorenzo Library. The library held a Drag Queen Story Hour with 6 child attendees all accompanied by their parents. Parent attendance was required. Storytimes are optional, require a child to be signed-up, and are described in full to caregivers in library newsletters and online program descriptions. The performer is a youth social worker and was qualified to lead the story hour.
Enter The Proud Boys, who typically end up projecting quite a bit. To borrow from Dee Snider, librarians cannot help it if The Proud Boys have dirty minds. They are obsessed with sex and even have group masturbantion rules. For reference, I am not aware of a national drag group in which monthly masturbation or sexual habits are addressed. Despite this, those boys will go on telling themselves that everything related to the LGBTQIA+ community is about the literal act of sex because for them, everything IS about sex. Different life, different reading experience.
These childless men forced their way into Drag Queen Story Hour to harass 6 young children. Red Flag #1. This communicates to me that The Proud Boys believe completely random adults should be legally permitted to act in loco parentis to anyone else’s children. Parents should be the only ones acting in the role of parent to their children, not strange men from around town. It is an insult to the institution of the family to presume oneself a better parent than a child’s real, legal parents.
The Boys yelled slurs within earshot of the kids and claimed the program was a sex event. The Proud Boys were the first ones to bring up sex in this storytime, which was intended for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. That is not okay. Due to their inappropriate behavior around children, the Alameda County Sheriff was called and is treating the case as a hate crime including harassment of minors.
Wentzville School District is facing a class action lawsuit in federal court from their own students. In the 2021/22 school year, The Bluest Eye was removed from their high school libraries, though after external pressure they did return it to the shelves in February. Despite all this, the School Board went on to vote to remove Fun Home by Allison Bechdel as well. The parent review committee for Fun Home included a grandparent of a 5th grader and the mother of a 6-year-old. As a professional librarian I would literally never in my life give that book to an elementary school student and sort of doubt it was ever in an elementary school library to begin with. The Bluest Eye was only Wentzville’s high school libraries but the media’s rhetoric would lead you to believe preschoolers were reading & comprehending Toni Morrison. It was a book on an optional reading list for AP English, which is a class reserved for high schoolers.
I personally spoke to some of Wentzville’s school staff members earlier this year. This was not a situation of a student that read something they were not ready for. No real life students were harmed at all. This is a situation of a parent with children currently enrolled in private school trying to control other people’s parenting choices. Respect has been given to a loudmouth with no children enrolled in the school district whose only stake in the game is the fraction of their property taxes that goes to funding public education. I can only pray that this person’s child never encounters an unfiltered cell phone or a computer. There are far more horrifying and pornographic things on Google than in a public school library.
I previously wrote about Lafayette in the context of their library board’s rejection of a Louisiana State Library grant for a public program about voting rights. When I spoke with a local stakeholder, they revealed that the whole area was being controlled by a political group called Citizens for a New Louisiana. After the voting rights situation, the library board banned This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson which prompted the library director to remove the teen nonfiction entirely and interfile it all with adult nonfiction. This will give teens the opportunity to browse adult topics that are not age-appropriate. If the goal is to preserve innocence, why are they forcing minors into the adult section? I digress.
These days, the library board has decided to enact a policy banning certain types of book displays, which even includes local Cajun history. This was a decision by the library director because “…everything is a fight. And if I put these books out now, I feel like I am inviting people to challenge these books.” Self censorship is a dangerous slippery slope. I feel like there might be some Cajun people in the Acadiana region of Louisiana, which is also known as “Cajun Country.” A library smack dab in the middle in Cajun Country should be mindful of its community and not pretend that it simply does not exist.
Citizens for a New Louisiana claims that the focus ought to be on reading because libraries are about reading. That is your basic elementary school level grasp of what the American public library, partially founded by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, is. Protection of the First Amendment is a core responsibility of American libraries. The act of a public library was political because it related to our country’s revolution against England. The British burned our capitol and library in the War of 1812. Jefferson helped replenish it and that is why Thomas Jefferson’s private book collection is featured in the Library of Congress to this day. Back to that elementary school level of thinking though, reading books about Cajun people would qualify as reading.
Keep fighting the good fight out there. Literacy and education are not pornography. Creeps who automatically associate youth literacy with pornography have something else entirely going on in their brain.
Holly Eberle is the Teen Programming and Outreach Librarian at the Algonquin Area Public Library District in Illinois. She received her MLIS from the University of Illinois in December 2015. In addition to intellectual freedom, she is also passionate about the opioid epidemic and getting Narcan inside every public library.