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Longtime Wyoming Library Director Fired For Refusing to Scrap Shelves of LGBTQ+ Books

Longtime Wyoming Library Director Fired For Refusing to Scrap Shelves of LGBTQ+ Books

Campbell County Public Library and book spines

After 27 years at the library, she still believes that it’s important to offer books from all perspectives, including those of LGBTQ+ people.

After 27 years of working at the Campbell County Public Library in Gilette, Wyo., the institution’s director has been fired over her refusal to strip books from the town’s collection.

As of late July, Terri Lesley, director of Campbell County Public Library, was terminated from her position. The decision came after the Campbell County Library board voted four to one to fire her.

As part of an alliance led by conservative stakeholders, the library board pushed for two years to convince Leslie to rid the collection of books that some claimed were inappropriate for kids. However, persuaded by her firm belief that a diverse array of texts makes for a thriving library, Lesley refused, Huff Post reports.

“I believe the community is harmed by not having access to a wide variety of information,” Lesley told the outlet.

She said she believed a library’s collection should include a wide variety of materials about diverse subjects, including books by and about LGBTQ+ people.

Activists from the far right have attacked library systems, dismantled their leadership, defunded the institutions in a well-known right-wing playbook, and used libraries as political fodder to push anti-LGBTQ+ legislation through GOP-controlled legislatures for years. Lesley’s firing is the culmination of that predictable right-wing playbook.

The library administrators received a complaint in 2021 from conservatives alleging children’s books had sexual content.

“Public libraries are for everyone,” Lesley said. “Our collection should serve all citizens of the community.”

The library announced an entertaining event featuring a transgender magician, and transphobes exploded in anger. Those on the right often believe and promote the conspiracy theory that LGBTQ+ people, assisted by non-LGBTQ+ liberals, are trying to turn children into transgender people. Local opponents of the event claimed that the library was trying to indoctrinate children.

The Gillette News Recordreported that 29 books were challenged in 2021 and 2022, including Gender Queer, Lawn Boy, and This Book Is Gay. In recent years, right-wing groups have targeted all of these.

“The actions of the board have affected me personally. They took away my means of supporting myself and took away my career of 27 years,” Lesley told Huff Post. “But I think this is a case worth fighting for. I believe in what public libraries do and the services they provide to all people.”

A vote by the library board in October 2022 led to the library leaving the American Library Association, a group that promotes libraries, and the Wyoming Library Association, which is its state chapter. The ALA establishes guidelines for collection growth policies, professional ethics, norms, and instructions for stocking library shelves.

The standards strongly oppose censorship of books in libraries and educational institutions.

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