A mayor in Mississippi is withholding funds from his county's public libraries, saying he'll release them only if the libraries get rid of books with LGBTQ+ themes.
The Madison County Library System did not receive its funding of $110,000 for the first quarter of this year from the city of Ridgeland, Tonja Johnson, executive director of the system, told the Mississippi Free Press this week. She asked Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee why the money had not arrived.
"He explained his opposition to what he called 'homosexual materials' in the library, that it went against his Christian beliefs, and that he would not release the money as the long as the materials were there," Johnson told the paper.
"I explained that we are a public library and we serve the entire community. I told him our collection reflects the diversity of our community," she said. But McGee replied "that the library can serve whoever we wanted, but that he only serves the great Lord above," she added.
One book McGee mentioned was The Queer Bible, "a series of essays by LGBTQ+ figures including Elton John, Munroe Bergdorf, and Tan France on other queer luminaries such as David Bowie, George Michael and Susan Sontag," the Free Press reports. He objected to many other books that touched on LGBTQ+ identities, even incidentally, Johnson said.
McGee told the paper, "We're holding [the money] right now because we found a large number of citizens who have complained about displays of sexual, whatever you want to call it, content. We're just responding to those citizens' complaints, and that's the position we're in."
Johnson noted that some residents have objected to LGBTQ+ books, but they didn't go through a formal process the library system has for complaints and apparently went straight to McGee.
The Free Press reporter challenged the mayor on whether he has authority to withhold the funds, which have been approved by the Ridgeland Board of Aldermen. "That's a legal question," he responded. "I don't know that I do or do not. But right now we're holding the money. I'll ask my attorney to address that."
The Board of Aldermen is expected to discuss the matter at its next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday. Meanwhile, the library system's board issued a strong statement supporting inclusivity, saying in part, "The Library Board and staff gladly serve all the people of Madison County with a wealth of cultures, religious beliefs, and views. The library's collection is for people of all ages, races, gender identities/expressions, and orientations. Our books are not only a mirror to reflect our community but a window into different worlds and different experiences that enable us to learn. Our materials are available for all. Censorship has no place here in Madison County Library System. Our library is for everyone."