So. Utah library faces backlash over removal of LGBTQ-themed displays

Note: This is an update to a previously released story

Last month library workers in Southern Utah were pressured to remove Pride Month-themed displays featuring LGBT books and materials because a county official believed they were too controversial. Joel Tucker, the Washington County director in charge of eight library branches, had the displays at the Hurricane branch removed following apparent complaints from patrons.

The same form of censorship occurred last year at the same branch. At that time, Ammon Treasure, a part-time employee, felt compelled to argue the decision but also felt his position at the library wouldn’t permit it. But this year, Ammon did take his concerns to a supervisor and human resources; and finally to The Spectrum & Daily News. He noted that the employees who placed the displays and wore the buttons said they never received any complaints from patrons. And they believe their county higher-ups were discriminatory.

“I take it from the perspective of the patron,” Tucker told The Spectrum. “What they see is we’re advocating for that point of view, and that we want them to read that. That’s not our intent, to drive people to support one ideal over the other or advocate for one position over another.”

“The intention behind the Pride Month displays was to show the library is a safe space to learn more about the topic,” added Ammon.

Library employees complied and changed the LGBT displays (and removed the buttons from their bodies) with new diversity-themed displays over a selection of books that read “libraries are for everyone.”

The new displays were a safer choice, Tucker said because the alternative would “give rise to or would be likely to give rise to disagreement.”

The National Coalition Against Censorship wrote a letter that called on public libraries of Washington County, Utah last week to reconsider a ban on LGBTQ displays. Joined by the National Council of Teachers of English, and LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, the letter warns that the current ban poses a serious threat to equal rights and freedom of expression and sets a dangerous precedent by perpetuating a culture of prejudice and intolerance.

“A culture of prejudice is toxic in any community forum, especially the library where everyone should be equally welcome and guaranteed freedom to read, think and explore new ideas,” the letter states. The ban, as the organizations point out, can also be seen as an impermissible act of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“As public institutions, libraries may determine the time, place and manner in which materials are exhibited, but they have a constitutional obligation not to deny access to material or otherwise discriminate on the basis of viewpoint,” the letter states. “Not only is suppressing LGBTQ displays likely to be a violation of the First Amendment, it further marginalizes a vulnerable minority group and would set a dangerous precedent of intolerance to purportedly controversial ideas.”

“Handling complaints about library displays can be challenging, but banning material just because some find it controversial is a violation of core constitutional principles,” warns Abena Hutchful, coordinator of NCAC’s youth programs. “A public library’s mission is to foster a culture of inclusion, open dialogue, and tolerance.”

The letter encourages Washington County libraries to establish transparent, viewpoint-neutral procedures for handling complaints about displays. The organizations offered to assist the county in developing such procedures.

The full letter available here.

Additionally, the Library Bill of Rights, a foundational document of the American Library Association, states that “library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background or views of those contributing to their creation,” and that “(m)aterials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

“Our library system will be forming a committee to create new policies about displays — in which they will be working closely with state librarians experienced with the Library Bill of Rights and upholding intellectual freedom,” Ammon wrote on his Facebook page today. “I feel that they are doing their utmost to rectify our concerns.

“While I have not been assured yet that any LGBTQ displays will not be censored in the future, I’m confident that with new policies in place we will be able to negotiate their return. Thank you, everyone, for your support.”

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