GILLETTE — The Campbell County Public Library is under fire after a post on the library’s Facebook page promoting its LGBTQ collection, and among the suggestions of dealing with it is censoring books.
“June is Pride Month and Rainbow Book Month,” the post reads. “For this month’s Teen Room blog, Sarah writes about few titles you can check out from your library that will connect you with the LGBTQIA+ collection at CCPL.”
Commissioner Del Shelstad said he took that to mean that Campbell County had designated June as Pride Month or Rainbow Book Month, and he was disturbed that the post was targeted toward teens.
“I believe that teaching this kind of behavior to minors is up to the parents, not the government,” he said.
Library director Terri Lesley said the intent of the post — made on the library’s own Facebook page and not Campbell County government’s — was to promote a part of the library’s collection. Rainbow Book Month is a national designation by the American Library Association.
“It wasn’t our intention to say the county had designated this,” Lesley said.
The post was made June 26. Lesley said she didn’t hear any complaints about it until Shelstad emailed her about it June 29.
Dozens of people packed the commission’s chambers Wednesday to voice their displeasure with the post.
“Parents should be informed of the queer agenda the library is implementing and have a chance to opt their children out of it before rather than after the fact,” Dean Vomhof said.
Kevin Bennett said he’s never seen heterosexuality promoted for a whole month at the library.
“If we’re not encouraging heterosexuality among teenagers for an entire month, in the public library, we definitely should not be doing that with sexual identities that are known to cause things like suicide and HIV,” he said.
His father, Hugh Bennett, said it was an attack on the “basic family structure.”
“What we’re looking at here is the ground game of an attempt to destroy our culture and our country,” said Hugh Bennett. “This is an assault on our morals, our ethics, or heritage, our belief in God,” he said.
Resident Susan Sisti said she was disturbed by it.
“I don’t know of a single parent that wants their teenager to have sex, let alone lesbian or gay sex,” Sisti said.
Scott Clem, a former state representative, pointed out that the month in question has come and gone. But he said the situation raises the question of what should be promoted, because “what you promote is what you’re going to be.”
“Animals have sex. That’s what we’re teaching our teenagers to do. We’re promoting the basest of base things in our society and marketing that to our children,” he said. “That’s why we have a hypersexualized society. Who are the role models now? It’s some person on a stripper pole somewhere.”
Sisti asked the commissioners to remove every single member of the library board.
“My solution to this is that they all need to be removed. We can no longer trust them. I will never trust them again,” she said.
She also suggested that a process be implemented to take offensive books out of the library.
“Some places have a parental review board ... so parents can review what’s in our library and censor books,” she said. “Maybe we need to take books like this to the library board meeting to have them removed from the shelves.”
Clem said the commissioners might not want to go that far.
“I understand the whole censorship issue, and that may not be something you want to take a bite of, as far as choosing which books to have in and out of the library,” he said. “But what we can do is choose which things to promote and which things not to promote.”
Commissioner Rusty Bell said there is a lot to be learned from the situation.
“I hope it doesn’t keep us from promoting things, and I also hope it doesn’t keep us from keeping books in the library,” he said. “I think we got to be really careful when we start censoring things like that.”
The commissioners have quarterly meetings with the library board. Bell said while they spend quite a bit of time talking about budgets and finances, they don’t spend a lot of time on programming.
“We can’t micromanage every single board,” he said. “We’ll start asking some questions at the next meeting.”
Karin Ebertz, the president of PFLAG Gillette, said there needs to be more education in the community on the LGBTQ experience. She thanked the library “for having the courage to put that information and those books out there.”
“There’s not a gay agenda,” she said. “There’s not a wish for people who are gay to recruit others to their side. If you’re gay you’re born that way.”
As Ebertz spoke, there were coughs, comments and chuckles from the crowd. At one point, Commission Chairman Bob Maul stepped in.
“She was pleasant enough to listen to you,” he said. “You do the same or we’ll stop this right now.”
Vicki Swenson said people in the LGBTQ community “are not animalistic, they’re not Satanic,” and she felt that a lot of the comments were attacking.
“I would hope people would be a little more tolerant,” she said.
Susan Bennett said “we accept everyone,” but that that doesn’t mean this behavior should be taught or encouraged to children.
“If I had a child that was a kleptomaniac, I’m not going to educate everybody on why my child is a kleptomaniac,” she said.
Shelstad asked Lesley if there is “a straight section in the library.”
“There is just a variety of books in the library,” Lesley replied, adding that fiction is organized by genre and that nonfiction is organized according to the Dewey Decimal System.
“This is exactly the type of thing that I think is harmful in our community,” Shelstad said. “I’m not asking you to have straight pride month. I’m just asking you not to have gay pride month. It sends the message that people are not equal.”
Sisti said her concerns with the library go beyond the promotion of Rainbow Book Month. She said she toured the library’s teen room, and “I’ve never seen anything darker.”
“If I were Satan, I would stack it with the books that were in there,” she said, adding that she saw books on topics such as witchcraft, spells and spirits and titles that included words such as “dark,” “shadows” and “blood.”
“I know about the Dungeons & Dragons, I know about their dark basement for the teens, and enough is enough,” Susan Bennett said.
Since Wednesday’s meeting, Lesley said she’s received “a lot of phone calls and emails” showing “overwhelming support for the library.”
She said the Campbell County Public Library’s mission “is to provide diverse cultural opportunities for reading, learning and entertainment to all citizens of our community,” and that there is a process through which books can be challenged.
There will be a wide range of topics and opinions presented in books and other media that people can get from the library. The library’s goal, Lesley said, is to allow people access to that.
“We can’t take sides, we are a neutral place,” she said.