The debate over the handling of gender identity in children’s books reached Southwest Florida, as the Sanibel Public Library Board met Thursday to discuss certain LGBTQ+ books following some parents’ complaints.
The initial complaints came from a group of parents who expressed concern to library staff after finding books with LGBTQ+ subject matter on display in the youth section during Pride Month. The books, written for ages 3 to 8, address topics such as being non-binary and transgender. While board members say they recognize some library materials chosen may be offensive, shocking or simply boring to certain sensibilities, they also recognize the same can be meaningful and affirming to others.
Nevertheless, a decision on what happens to these books will have to wait.
It was announced that Margaret Mohundro, executive director for the library, would be absent from the 9 a.m. public meeting due to a tragic accident resulting in the death of two family members.
“The board has tabled the discussion of the LGBTQ+ topics in the children’s section for the meeting on Thursday,” said Cathy Cameron, office manager for the Sanibel Public Library. “Margaret Mohundro, our executive director, was in the process of reviewing policy and procedures regarding the youth collection to present options and recommendations to the board… the board will listen to public comment, but will table any further discussion or decisions until Margaret’s return.”
Some argue that libraries are an accessible way for the public to reach a wealth of information regardless of class or technological connection, so the LGBTQ+ books should stay, as parents can choose what they want to read to their child, anyway. The library’s board says it has listened to people on both sides of the discussion.
“I do feel like children should be given the chance to kind of develop their ideas on their own and not be put in a situation where it’s in their face, and it’s almost too accessible, in my mind, for it to be there at this point, at that age group,” said Sanibel resident Candy Duke. “I just think that it’s too young for a library to stack those kinds of books.”
Other neighbors told WINK News they “don’t see an issue” with the books being in the youth section, and think it’s important that children in that age group are able to read books discussing LGBTQ+ topics that may pertain to them and their families.
More than 50 people were present at the public meeting. One board member told the public that the library is an independent tax entity, and she thinks it shouldn’t be censored. Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith likewise emphasized to WINK News the library’s independent status, saying it falls outside the city’s jurisdiction.
A reverend, an atheist, a physician, and several parents spoke in favor of keeping the books not only in the library but specifically in the youth section, saying it’s important for children’s mental, physical and emotional well-being.
Other parents in favor of the books staying said representation matters: They have family members who didn’t come out until they were adults because they never saw themselves represented in books, history or elsewhere, and taking books like this away sets us back.
“You’re not gonna read a book about a trans person or a gay person and say ‘Ew I caught it’ it’s measles it’s mumps it’s a cold,” one parent said at the meeting.
“Oh and here is a book that’s on the shelf, I did not take any books out of the library this is for ages 8-12 see if you think that’s appropriate for that age group,” another person at the meeting said.
Parents who are against the books staying in the library said they don’t necessarily want the books removed, but at least moved to another section of the library, maybe the adult section. They said they want to feel comfortable allowing their children to go to the library and pick up books in the youth kids section without having to worry about the content.
One man said that just because a book is labeled a children’s book doesn’t mean the content is actually suitable for children.
Other parents against the books staying said children have open minds, and they believe books that discuss children transitioning could very well cause a young child to be confused.