DIXON – A controversy sparked by parents wanting to ban an LGBTQ comic book containing sexual material from Dixon Public Library led to community concerns about censorship and discrimination Monday.
More than a hundred community members packed the dining hall of the Loveland Community House and Museum Monday with a fairly split crowd of opposition and proponents, ranging from library supporters and LGBTQ advocates to political figures and members of a conservative Facebook group, the Sauk Valley Freedom Fighters.
About a month ago, around a dozen families submitted a letter to library Director Antony Deter and city officials calling for the removal of the library’s Pride Month display. It was in response to resident Jill Hayes reportedly finding her 1-year-old had knocked down a pride display book “Gender Queer: A Memoir” from the shelves. The young adult comic book, by Maia Kobabe, is about coming out as nonbinary and contains sexual depictions.
“Flags, signs and book displays based on how adults experience sexual attraction and gender identity have no place in an open and public space for children,” the letter said.
It was a form letter from the CatholicVote “Hide the Pride” movement, in which community members check out all the LGBTQ content they can from a library to remove the books from public display.
Those opposing the material claimed the depictions were tantamount to child pornography.
Formal requests were made to remove “Gender Queer” as well as the adult lesbian comic “Patience and Esther: An Edwardian Romance” by S.W. Searle.
About 19 people weighed in on the issues for about two hours Monday, with nine calling for removing the books and 10 voicing concerns about censorship and LGBTQ discrimination. There also were nine letters submitted in favor of keeping the books and one against.
Dixon business owner Brett Nicklaus, who helped found the Sauk Valley Freedom Fighters and recently lost the Republican bid for state senate against Win Stoller for the 37th District, urged for the books not only be removed but burned as well.
The Library Board doesn’t have the authority to remove material from the library; the library director makes decisions on selecting and discarding materials.
Books are reviewed daily, and new material is chosen after much research, Deter said.
When books are removed, it’s usually because of damage or outdated subject matter, such as obsolete medical books.
“The board may not be able to remove books, but they can remove directors,” Nicklaus said, adding that there was no “wisdom or discernment” to giving children access to the books.
City Council member Dennis Considine said that he was 110% behind Deter’s decisions and that he’s a wonderful asset to the community.
“I hope we come to some civil way to solve these issues,” Considine said.
The concerns are “explicitly on the content of the books” and not based on bigotry, said Kyle Ferrebee, program director of the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home, which is run by the Young America’s Foundation.
When the crowd was asked how many people had read the books, only a few raised their hands, but many had looked at the pages with sexual content, which were posted on social media.
Several who spoke against banning the books mentioned the “slippery slope” the precedent could cause. That included 15-year-old Daxxen Krzykowski, who said the controversy was “blatant homophobia.”
“Banning books is a slippery slope into fascism,” Krzykowski said.
Others focused on the merits the library provides for all ages and walks of life. The library creates “an atmosphere of safety and acceptance” with activities and resources sparking educational joy for children, resident Victoria Bowers said.
She said she found it “absolutely abhorrent” that library staff were being referred to as groomers, pedophiles and sexual deviants.
“We should all be thanking librarians for the value they bring to our city,” Bowers said.
There’s no end to the removal of books once it starts, said Kelly Flanagan, a clinical psychologist and former Dixon School Board member. She argued that the issue began because of the “Hide the Pride” movement, not because of sexual content.
Kristine Schauff, the library director at Rock Falls High School and an educator for more than three decades, said “Gender Queer” is not an erotic adventure but a true expression of what the person saw as their life.
“The book showcases conflict to a positive resolution when the author chooses life,” she said.
Business owner Bob Balayti said he’s not a homophobe and “this has nothing to do with that.” Rather, it’s about a “spiritual war” with the devil, he said.
Prior to the meeting, retired minister and former Dixon resident Mark Swarbrick sent an email to 45 pastors across the area asking them to attend the meeting and make their voices heard.
The only clergy member to speak was area evangelist John Lira, who referred to the material as child pornography and a federal crime.
“Gender Queer” and “Patience and Esther” are two of many LGBTQ books under attack at libraries across the nation as part of politicized book bans.