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A girl browsing a library shelf.

A student browses books at a library in San Francisco on September 10, 2019. (Photo: Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

'Catastrophic': Michigan Town Votes to Defund Library Over LGBTQ+ Material

The vote "demonstrates why forces opposed to public libraries, schools, and the taxes that pay for them are culture warring so hard," said one critic.

Julia Conley

A library in western Michigan is at risk of closing in the next year after town residents voted against a tax that would have funded 84% of the facility's budget, following a fight over a book with LGBTQ+ themes on the library's shelves.

On Tuesday, people in Jamestown Township voted 62% to 37% against approving a millage that would have been applied to residents' property taxes in order to fund Patmos Library.

"We stand behind the fact that our community is made up of a very diverse group of individuals, and we as a library cater to the diversity of our community."

The vote followed a dispute over a book called Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, which had appeared in the adult graphic novel section and prompted some residents to speak out against the content at library board meetings earlier this year.

The library staff attempted to compromise by placing the book behind the counter, but the residents formed a group called Jamestown Conservatives and pressured neighbors to vote against the millage, which would have added $24 to property taxes for the average home in the town.

Jamestown Conservatives objected to the author's story of coming out as nonbinary and handed out flyers reading, "Pray that we can make changes and make the Patmos Library a safe and neutral place for our children," and warning that the library's director was promoting "the LGBTQ ideology."

The library director resigned in the spring, citing harassment and claims that she was "indoctrinating" children.

According to Bridge Michigan, yard signs also appeared ahead of the vote reading, "50% millage increase to GROOM our kids? Vote NO on Library!"

Without the funding from the millage, library board president Larry Walton told Bridge, the library is likely to run out of funding by the fall of 2023, after its reserves of $325,000 are used up.

Maris Kreizman, books editor for Vulture, called the vote "catastrophic."

The potential closing of Patmos Library—which will only be avoided if the town votes again on renewing the millage—comes as Republican lawmakers at the federal, state, and local levels are promoting a nationwide battle over materials teachers and librarians can share with children. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill earlier this year barring public school educators from having classroom discussions about gender identity and the LGBTQ+ community.

Republicans in at least 36 states have proposed or advanced bills to restrict public school lessons pertaining to racism, the contributions of people of specific races or ethnic backgrounds, and other related issues.

The "panic" over gender identity and race discussions "was always a cover" to strip schools and libraries of public funding, said Jason Linkus, deputy editor of The New Republic.

The threat to Patmos Library "demonstrates why forces opposed to public libraries, schools, and the taxes that pay for them are culture warring so hard," said author and podcaster Jennifer Berkshire.

The vote in Jamestown followed a monthslong effort earlier this year by Ridgeland, Mississippi Mayor Gene McGee to withhold $110,000 in funding for the town's library because its collection contained LGBTQ+ material. The mayor and library reached an agreement in April, with the city agreeing that it does not have the authority to limit what appears on the library's shelves.

On Wednesday, Walton rejected a claim by Jamestown Conservatives that the vote will be a "wake-up call" for the library staff.

"A wake-up call to what? To take LGBTQ books off the shelf and then they will give us money? What do you call that? Ransom?" he asked Bridge.

"We stand behind the fact that our community is made up of a very diverse group of individuals," Walton added, "and we as a library cater to the diversity of our community."

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