By: guest blogger E. F. Schraeder
Growing up and feeling like you don’t fit in is a common enough experience, but for LGBTQ youth, libraries often feel like a safe zone. Even though there remains no federal employment protection or housing discrimination protection, other recent modest gains for the LGBTQ community at large seem to be resulting in pushback this summer against one of the community’s most vulnerable members: youth. First in June, a law was proposed in Ohio that would force teachers (and presumably librarians) to “out” transgender students. When it comes to targeting LGBTQ kids for outing, at a basic level this issue falls in direct opposition to the core values of librarians, who are dedicated to protecting patron privacy. At a human level, this also jeopardizes the safety of at-risk youth, especially considered in light of the reality that roughly 40% of the homeless youth served in organizations identify as members of the LGBTQ community. Then in August, the Washington county Utah library district banned LGBTQ displays, and while it’s getting a lot of attention, this library isn’t alone in the fight to erase LGBTQ identity. Utah eventually opted for a “libraries are for everyone” display instead. While there is nothing wrong with the notion that “libraries are for everyone,” this potentially erases LGBTQ identity, history, and reality.
These incidents contradict two core values of the ALA, specifically privacy and diversity. At a time when hate groups continue to climb across the U.S., people (like librarians) who can safely speak up for inclusion are desperately needed because here’s the thing, LGBTQ people exist. We existed as youth a generation ago, when we hardly ever found ourselves reflected in library displays, books, or media (and still managed to grow up queer). Neither outing or ignoring LGBTQ youth will make them go away, but silence and inaction may make them suffer. If a librarian works in a district that seems hostile to LGBTQ inclusion, here are six strategies to consider that may help keep your library from erasing the rainbow.
1) Make Diversity a Starting Point
Imagine what the bookshelves would be like without LGBTQ authors like Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Rita Mae Brown, Virginia Woolf, Radclyffe Hall, Oscar Wilde, Getrude Stein James Baldwin, and so many others— those are some of the most celebrated and popular authors on the library shelves! Consider diversity as a starting point rather than an add on, and always include work by LGBTQ authors and members of historically marginalized groups in displays to recognize these significant literary contributions outside pride month and other celebrations. Please remember to include brief bios so these authors’ identities are not erased! Beyond the classics, from science fiction, horror, romance, to mysteries and more, there are also LGBTQ authors in all genres (many of us writing the stories we didn’t get to read growing up) that may be included in Mystery Month, Women in Horror Month, etc. *Hot tip if you have science fiction fans in your library, include new classics like Rivers Solomon’s Unkindness of Ghosts. Confused about where to start? Visit morediverse.com.
2) Stick to It
There are stickers marking mysteries, romance, and other subject classifications. Rainbow stickers on the spine may seem subtle and wouldn’t have to be ‘on display’ to be easily found, but use caution: some patrons may prefer not having their book selections with visible markers, so consider highlighting in a more subtle way like “Award Winner,” “Diverse Book,” etc.
3) Community Resources
When all the displays are banned, a library can still be a hub for community resources. Invite local branches of PFLAG, GLSEN, and other community groups to drop off materials and newsletters to make available to the public.
4) Think Outside the Rainbow
The LGBTQ community is not new, and LGBTQ impact is not limited to the struggle for LGBTQ rights: commemorate Bayard Rustin during African American History Month; Saeed Jones, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Assotto Saint, Chrystos during National Poetry Month; James Baldwin during Banned Books Week; Billie Jean King during women’s history month; And others! Don’t doubt that LGBTQ activists and authors have impacted history and seek resources to recognize LGBTQ accomplishments all year.
5) Now a Major Motion Picture
If your public library highlights “Read the Movie” themes with displays, include LGBTQ titles like Reinaldo Arena’s Before Night Falls, André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name, Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt and Carol, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Shamim Sarif’s I Can’t Think Straight, Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet, Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, and others!
6) And the Award Goes to…
If your library honors literary award winners with displays, include Lambda Literary Award winners, too.
Discovering LGBTQ themed books probably won’t make anyone ‘more queer,’ but it just may help patrons from feeling alone. Your library shelves can make all the difference in the world, and here’s hoping these six strategies help keep the rainbow visible.
- ALA. “Core Values.” 2018. Accessed August 21, 2018.
- Garcia, Eric. “LGBT displays draw some ire – nearly two months later.” TDT News. 12 August 2017. Accessed August 21 2018.
- Harper, Briana. “Proposed law would force teachers to ‘out’ transgender youth.” WCPO. 28 June 2018. Accessed August 21, 2018.
- “Utah Library Workers Told to Remove LGBTQ-themed Displays.” The Republic. 25 July 2018. Accessed August 21, 2018.
- Southern Poverty Law Center. “Hate groups increase for second consecutive year as Trump electrifies radical right.” February 15, 2017. Accessed August 21, 2018.
Ethicist, poet, and speculative fiction writer E. F. Schraeder is the author of two poetry chapbooks, most recently Chapter Eleven (Partisan Press). Schraeder’s poetry and speculative fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in many journals and anthologies including Sinister Wisdom, Lavender Review: Poems from the First Five Years, The Literary Hatchet, The Feminist Wire, and others. Currently an MLIS student, Schraeder holds an interdisciplinary Ph.D. emphasizing applied ethics. Dr. Schraeder’s current projects include a queer monster’s coming of age novella and a full length manuscript of poems.