Photo by Lewiston Sun Journal
Having gotten sidetracked by the sordid saga of Kavanaugh, belated but still gratifying news of a modest victory in grim times: Marking last week's annual American Library Association Banned Books Week, the public library in Rumford, Maine, a small mill town of about 5,000, set out a display of the usual sinful suspects - To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, Farenheit 451, etc. The display also included several LGBTQ-themed, award-winning kids' and teens' books - Two Boys Kissing, And Tango Makes Three, My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness - to support the week's goal of celebrating tolerance and freedom. The exhibit, in an adult section on a different floor from the kids' section, declared, "Yes, books are dangerous - they contain ideas."
Cue three pastors not crazy about these "ideas." Dan Pearson of the Rumford Baptist Church, Justin Thacker of Praise Assembly of God, and Rev. Nathan March of Parish of the Holy Savior wrote a letter to library trustees objecting to "immodest" material "promoting homosexuality" (oddly ignoring the kinky 50 Shades of Grey.) They argued a library should teach "values that contribute to the community," not "a far left political view that sees homosexuality as acceptable and to be promoted (over) a conservative and traditional view that sees homosexuality as wrong and to be avoided." Such beliefs offend "traditional Biblical Christians" and probably Muslims if there were any in the 98% white town, the men wrote, ending with a singularly fabulous typo: "We believe that many in this community would be concerned about the book that had the two naked women as being immodest and inappropriate for a pubic setting."
Many were in fact concerned, mostly by the good pastors' bigotry and small-mindedness; others were entertained by the irony of their protest. "So they wanted to ban the banned books display?" wrote one observer. "That's getting very meta." The letter sparked responses from the National Coalition Against Censorship, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Mombian, a blog about lesbian moms, and many residents. Banned books represent "centuries of silenced voices," wrote Katrina Ray-Saulis, including voices of LGBT+ authors "at a time (we) are seeing an increase in hate crimes against us...We will not be censored. We will not be silenced."
At a public meeting attended by over 70 people, the pastors seemed taken aback. Stressing he was "not a man of hate. I help everybody, whether it’s homosexuality, fornication, adultery," Thacker said their stance was meant as "a suggestion (not) a firestorm." Pearson apologized for some wording - "I did not want to alienate the gay community" - stumbled over "LGBTQ," urged the library be "neutral" about sex, and suggested they offer a display promoting “healthy views - I’m sorry, what we believe would be a more biblical, conservative sexuality.”
One of the most powerful responses came from librarian Mary Ann May Fournier, who said the flap had motivated her to come out as gay after years in the closet: “I don’t want to hide - I hid for a long time. And now you want me to hide the LGBTQ books that are like Bibles to some of these children...that are stolen by some of these LGBTQ teens because they don't want their parents to know they're checking them out." In the end, the library trustees voted unanimously to keep the display intact.
Not everyone in town was happy: Reactions to the vote included the rabid, "This library is not ALL warm and fuzzy diversity...They are really quite totalitarian" and, "When you give adult information to young minds who are not developed enough to handle it, they act out! Mein Kompf and the Koran were just ideas until Hitler and Mohamad got ahold of them!" There was anger at "busybody preachers," with one offer to "translate Pastor Pearson's Weasel-Speak: He's very sorry his bigotry was made public." Most, though, took the admirable stance that "knowledge and ideas are a powerful weapon (against) hatred and ignorance." Just so, wrote