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This Small Virginia Town Could Lose Its Library Over LGBTQ+ Book Brawl

This Small Virginia Town Could Lose Its Library Over LGBTQ+ Book Brawl

Pride Colors book and Samuels Public Library

Some conservative parents are claiming books with LGBTQ+ themes are essentially pornography.


Conservative residents spoke at a contentious Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday in the heavily right-leaning city of Front Royal, Va., where they discussed a controversy over LGBTQ+ books in the community library’s collection that some called pornography.

Last spring, religious conservatives claimed that the Samuels Public Library in Front Royal was allowing children to access sexually explicit content.

The conservative anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment spreading around the country has forced previously uncontroversial institutions, such as libraries, to close their doors.

A local public library in a small Iowa town was forced to close in July after conservative residents criticized its LGBTQ+ staff and displays regarding LGBTQ-related books, causing employees to quit their jobs. Last August, an initiative to renew tax funds for a Michigan library outside Grand Rapids was rejected by the town’s voters, thus defunding the library.

The local group Clean Up Samuels, which was behind the outrage, takes issue specifically with books by or about LGBTQ+ people, claiming that including them in circulation is akin to giving children porn. Clean Up Samuels petitioned the library director to remove 134 titles the group deemed objectionable, but the director refused. In June, the Board of Supervisors voted to withhold most of the library’s funding to resolve the issue. Then in August, the library’s director resigned after intense criticism from right-wing groups. Without county action, the library’s funds will run out October 1.

The book Pride Colors by Robin Stevenson, which explains the meaning of the rainbow colors in the Pride flag, is among the titles deemed offensive. The picture book And Tango Makes Three, about two male penguins who form a family, is also considered "pornographic" by those who want these titles removed.

In Tuesday’s meeting, those opposed to having LGBTQ+ titles in the library urged Warren County supervisors to take over the library’s day-to-day operations by moving forward with a proposal that was rejected previously.

On August 15, supervisors approved a proposed Memorandum of Agreement outlining the county’s association with the library. An emergency closed-door meeting held by the Samuels board on August 23 resulted in the proposal being rejected and a revised version being submitted.

Considering that the library receives most of its operating budget from Warren County, the supervisors’ proposal seeks to establish the terms under which the library may receive county funds and install trustees.

It is stipulated in the agreement that supervisors would appoint one trustee each for their districts. The supervisors would collectively appoint two trustees for the library board’s executive committee. According to the proposed MOA, the county would not take over the library as a county service but rather give supervisors control of the trustee board, which is in charge of appointing officers, HRand employment matters, and deciding other library matters.

Clean Up Samuels supporters demanded that the board institute the rejected MOA “without any changes” and appoint members to the library’s board “immediately” as they got up to speak.

Chip Stewart of Save Samuels, a group opposed to restricting the library's content, said one of the members of Clean Up Samuels group infiltrated a planning meeting on Monday and learned that the pro-diversity group planned to sign up for speaking spots early in the afternoon on Tuesday. Instead, Clean Up Samuels representatives took up most of the speaking spots for the one-hour public comment portion of the 7 p.m. meeting.

“We’re not happy about last night,” Stewart said. “CuS sent a spy to our prep meeting on Monday. She ended up being one of the speakers. She found out that we were getting folks there early [at] 2:00 p.m. to sign up for speaking spots, so they sent theirs in at 9:00 a.m. That’s why they had 16 of 19 spots.”

He added, “I’ve never seen any of the speakers before and suspect they were either brought in by an outside group or sent by Christendom College [maybe for] extra credit. They were obviously coached and provided with talking points, as many used the same phrases, and their speeches were nearly cloned.”

Christendom College is a Catholic liberal arts school in Front Royal.

With speeches that did include some identical language and themes, Clean Up Samuels activists demanded that the board stop what they viewed as “taxation without representation” since people opposed to LGBTQ+ content in libraries did not have a say in what was available for reading.

In his small town in southwestern Virginia, one speaker recalled riding his bike to the library and that it was one of the few places kids could go unsupervised. He spoke about the joy of borrowing a new book when he was a child.

“Because of the pornography that’s readily available in the Samuels Library for children, I cannot allow my children to do the same thing in the future,” he said.

He added that the library was distributing pornography to “young, impressionable children.”

Another speaker claimed that the library was a place of hedonistic availability for kids.

“It should be obvious that we should not allow porn to be anywhere near our communities and or kids,” he said, adding, “It is scandalous. There are pornographic books strewn targeting minors throughout the library in multiple sections. Minors of all ages have access to this material. It is scandalous and cannot be tolerated.”

He said Save Samuels was “a fringe group that supports porn for children.”

As part of her three minutes, one Clean Up Samuels group supporter quoted de-transitioner Chloe Cole in an apparent attempt to tie the library issue to gender-affirming care for transgender minors.

Resident Stevi Hubbard, however, countered the Clean Up Samuels claims. “I have great news for the Clean Up Samuels crew,” she said. “Pornography in libraries is illegal. It is illegal. It is a law that is already on the books. And if they have pornography in the library, they should take their evidence to the sheriff’s office and have the librarian arrested. But they won’t do that because there is no pornography in the library.”

She continued, “You said taxation without representation. What about my representation in the library? What about what I want my children to read? What about the 4 percent [of] LGBTQ members in your community that you represent that only get 1 percent of the books? Are they not being represented fairly with their tax dollars?”

Hubbard expanded on her point.

“I mean, the fight is ridiculous, and these people are disingenuous,” she said, noting the Clean Up Samuels speaker who had come to a Save Samuels meeting under the guise of being a supporter.

“Sloan came to our meeting and pretended that she was a supporter,” she said. “These are how these people behave. What kind of religion is teaching them to act that way? Is that what you want for your children?”

She concluded, “If you take this library public and you try to remove those LGBTQ books, it’s fiscally irresponsible. You will be sued over and over again, and you will be playing with our money once again. How much are you willing to pay for their bigotry? How much are you willing to pay?”

Through Freedom of Information requests, Save Samuels obtained complaints from members of far-right groups about the books.

“Our library should not be carrying ANY material about LGBT,” one person wrote.

“Family has 2 moms — unacceptable,” the person wrote of another book. They also complained, “This book makes LGBTQ+ look ‘harmless’ and acceptable.”

Another person wrote, “Children should not be learning about sex in the library,” adding, “I am concerned about LGBT books in YA sections.”

While another wrote, “This book discusses same-sex romance and transgender topics.”

Kasey Meehan, Freedom to Read program director at PEN America, criticized the situation in Front Royal in a press release.

“What is happening in Front Royal, Virginia, should serve as a wake up call for anyone who cares about the freedom to read,” Meehan said. “Because of an activist minority and a campaign of intimidation, an entire county may soon lose out on access to literature and information. Public libraries are a critical part of our democracy; to see one threatened by baseless claims and conspiracy theories is deeply alarming. We hope that funding will be released and that Samuels Library will be able to continue serving its constituents.”

On September 19, the Warren County Board of Supervisors will meet again to decide how the county will move forward.

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