Dixon Library Board looking into policy changes for displays

Community members continue to voice concerns over LGBTQ comic books

Dixon Public Library Director Antony Deter speaks with library board President Tracey Lawton Monday, Sept. 12, 2022, during the meeting at the Loveland Community House and Museum.

DIXON – The Dixon Library Board is considering drafting policy on library displays in the wake of continued complaints about LGBTQ comic books containing sexual content.

The board asked library Director Antony Deter to research display policies, and on Monday he presented the group with examples from Dunlap, Peoria, Crystal Lake and Galesburg.

Some policies allow community members to fill out a form asking library staff to remove display materials, which board members should consider adding to its current policy, Deter said.

New board member Piper Grazulis said she thinks it would be wise to include language similar to Dunlap’s policy, which prohibits displaying “material containing images that include significant elements of sexually explicit imagery, nudity or graphic depictions of violence.”

The library was presented with the start of a complicated issue in June after a letter signed by a dozen families was sent to the director and city officials calling for the removal of the library’s Pride Month display.

It was a form letter from the conservative nonprofit CatholicVote “Hide the Pride” group, in which community members were asked to check out all the LGBTQ content they could from a library to remove the books from public display.

The letter did not name specific books but said it would be checking out and keeping all the LGBTQ books until the library removed the “inappropriate content from the shelves,” as well as refrained from buying “R-rated content” with taxpayer funds.

Deter at the time directed the letter writer to information on giving public comment during a meeting as well as the library’s policy form for the request for reconsideration of library materials.

Deter then received 16 requests to remove young adult comic “Gender Queer: A Memoir” as well as the adult lesbian comic book “Patience and Esther: An Edwardian Romance” for reasons including “sin,” “vulgarity” and “lesbianism.”

These two books are at the center of the controversy at Dixon Public Library. The graphic novels were put on display as part of Pride month and contain material that some think aren’t appropriate for younger aged children.

Removing the books on those considerations would not only violate the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause against discrimination but also would violate library standards on ethics, he said.

Last month, the board unanimously approved policy changes reinforcing language against censorship and discrimination.

The authority to remove books is up to the library director, but the board also approved a policy change allowing for an appeals process to the director’s decision on reconsideration of materials.

Following the change, Deter contacted all who submitted requests to remove the books. He then received 19 requests for each book.

Most were requesting to remove the books. One asked that “Gender Queer” be stored behind a counter, another asked that it not be assigned to a child and one wanted ID required and to limit access to those younger than 18, Deter said.

The books were put out in a special Pride month display near the young adult section of the Dixon library.

“Gender Queer” was part of the library Pride display but was never displayed open to any page, and it was never displayed in the children’s section downstairs, despite rumors to the contrary, Deter said.

The book is about the author Maia Kobabe’s coming out as nonbinary and contains sexual depictions about topics including oral sex.

“Patience and Esther” was kept in the adult section and was never put on display.

He sent his determinations to all who submitted the requests, with “Patience and Esther” going back to the adult graphic novel section and “Gender Queer” being moved from the young adult collection to the adult graphic novel section.

“While over half of the Illinois public libraries I looked at had the book placed in their Young Adult collection, the book received at least one positive review in the trade press recommending it for grades 9 and up, and it has been nominated to the Lincoln Master List, due to the strong nature of certain images within the book, it is my determination that the book will be moved from the Young Adult Graphic Novel collection to the Adult Graphic Novel collection,” Deter wrote in his responses.

The Dixon Library Board meetings in June, July and August drew crowds of community members – with about 100 people in July – to speak out on the issues including concerns about censorship and discrimination and others about minors having access to books containing sexual content. Some said the books were sinful, they should be banned or burned and library staff should be prosecuted for pornography for having the books in the building.

Sharon McLane speaks during the Dixon Library Board meeting Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, against removing LGBTQ comic books from the library.

Monday’s meeting had a smaller audience of around 15 people with five making public comment against the books and two letters sent in supporting the library and speaking against censorship.

Resident Damaris Martinez, who’s spoken during all of the latest board meetings, said not all of those against “Gender Queer” view the book as containing sinful material, but they don’t believe it’s suitable for a school or public library. She compared it to child pornography, and said it’s not appropriate for public consumption.

Resident Michael Perrino said the book contains “smut and evil,” and resident Michael McLaughlin said he was glad it was moved to the adult section but doesn’t think it should be in the library because he considers it to contain pornography.

“The rumors that have been spread suggesting that this book contains child pornography are absolutely false,” Deter said in his responses, which included using the Spivak-style “e” pronoun to reference Maia Kobabe, a preference that the author detailed in the book.

“Indeed the narrator clearly states that e was 25 years old at the time that the event depicted in the most controversial image happened,” Deter said.

None of those who submitted requests to remove the books asked for an appeal for about two weeks before Monday’s meeting, but Angie Shippert, who’s running for Lee County Board, told the Library Board she intends to appeal.

If she makes a written appeal to Deter, the request to remove the books would be put on the agenda for the next board meeting Oct. 10. The board’s decision would be final, and requests to remove the same books would not be considered for two years.

Grazulis, the board member, said people can say the book is pornography, but it’s legal under Illinois law. Those who don’t like the book might want to take it up with the state Legislature, she added.

“Gender Queer” and “Patience and Esther” are two of many LGBTQ books that have been under scrutiny at libraries across the nation in recent months.

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Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers joined Sauk Valley Media in 2016 covering local government in Dixon and Lee County.