By Andrew Fraieli –Months of public comment at meetings of the Douglas County Libraries Board of Trustees culminated Wednesday in the denial of four book appeals that all targeted LGBTQ books.

Since April, a handful of county residents had demanded the books’ removal, calling them “obscene” and part of a plan to “indoctrinate children.” But most of the dozens of speakers who addressed the board during a public comment period at Wednesday’s meeting represented librarians, LGBTQ community members and other residents who criticized the attempted book bans as anti-LGBTQ bigotry.

“How can supporting a person, a human being, with nuanced thoughts, feelings and questions possibly be a bad thing?” said Douglas County resident Patterson Sebastian, who identified as queer and trans.

The four appeals that were under consideration were all put forward by Aaron Wood, the founder of conservative Christian men’s activist group Freedom Fathers and a former candidate for Colorado Republican Party chair. A total of 14 separate appeals were filed with the library district regarding 10 different books. Five appeals were submitted in 2022, according to Douglas County libraries public records.

“Nobody is saying we need to start burning books, but what we need to say is — are these books actually worthy of being in the library catalog, do they offer any sort of educational purpose, advance our culture and values, or are they simply just trash?” Wood, who has spearheaded these efforts in recent months, previously told Colorado Newsline.

The four book appeals presented to the board concerned “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson, a young adult nonfiction book on sexuality and gender with personal stories; “The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish” by Lil Miss Hot Mess, a cartoon children’s picture book; “Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts)” by L. C. Rosen, a young adult fiction novel about a queer teen being blackmailed about their sexuality; and “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, a young adult memoir about being a Black queer boy in New Jersey. Some of the LGBTQ books being challenged by conservative activists in Douglas County include “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson. (Andrew Fraieli for Colorado Newsline)

For many members of the LGBTQ community, the books are the only representation of themselves in the library.

“I personally have read ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’ and ‘This Book is Gay,’ and I felt seen, I felt heard,” said resident Danny McCorkle, a transgender man.

Residents opposed to the book removals have argued that other books in the library that contain similar content referencing sexuality are accessible to anyone — such as adult romance novels and many other young adult books.

“Like other youth memoirs, there are themes of sexuality and trauma, there is profanity, there are perspectives about the world that adults may not agree with,” resident Megan Burch said of “All Boys Aren’t Blue.”

“I think it’s important to note that we are here tonight, because this particular youth memoir is about a queer youth,” Burch added.

Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric

The district’s board was obligated consider whether the books were consistent with library policy after Wood appealed his requests to remove them, which were first rejected by Bob Pasicznyuk, the district’s executive director. The seven-member board of trustees is made up of volunteers appointed by the Douglas County Board of Commissioners.

In front of a crowd of more than 100 people at Wednesday’s meeting, Pasicznyuk reiterated that Wood’s request to remove the books went directly against library policy, including a requirement that the district not make decisions about books based on race, face, sexuality, or gender. He added that “the board directed staff not to limit content just because a child might gain access to it.”

“I believe that any reasonable application of these standards is at odds with removing, restricting, or relocating these titles,” he said. Bob Pasicznyuk, the executive director of Douglas County Libraries, speaks at a board of trustees meeting on Aug. 23, 2023. (Andrew Fraieli for Colorado Newsline)

Regarding obscenity, Pasicznyuk said that “Douglas County doesn’t carry books that have been ruled to be obscene by any state, federal or local jurisdiction.” If a book was obscene, it would not be available in libraries across the US, and would not be sold through national retailers, he added.

Conservative activists in April first objected to books like “This Book is Gay” and “The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish,” as well as the title “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, on the grounds that they did not belong in the children’s section.

After the library informed residents that the bulk of these are labeled young adult nonfiction and were not actually placed in the children’s section, some residents called for them to be burned or locked up. Echoing homophobic and transphobic conspiracy theories that have propelled a nationwide wave of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and legislation by Republicans, some compared the books to child abuse.

“Just because a lot of people engage in child trafficking, should we accept that as a culture?” said Douglas County resident Bob Jenson.

Highlighted in multiple meetings by residents and the library alike was the solution of a children’s library card, which gives parents the ability to restrict their children to taking out books solely from the children’s section. According to Pasicznyuk, only 30 of the cards are issued for the entire library district. Aaron Wood, the founder of conservative Christian men’s activist group Freedom Fathers, reacts after his appeals to remove four LGBTQ books from Douglas County Libraries were denied by the district’s board of trustees. (Andrew Fraieli for Colorado Newsline)

‘Not what our country is about’

Jessica Fredrickson, a librarian since 2019 in the Denver metro area and co-creator of anti-censorship group Douglas County Freadom Defenders, presented a petition with almost 1,500 county resident signatures to the Board compelling them to take no action on the books, leaving them on the shelves.

When asked about the Board’s ruling, Fredrickson told Colorado Newsline she was glad and excited they abided by library policy, but was concerned by some comments by the Board about revising policy in the future.

“Many of them seem to lack an understanding of how the library selects materials,” she said. “They kept saying ‘there’s no framework for this.’ There absolutely is a framework.”

Some of these comments were made by trustee Meghann Silverthorn, a previous president of the Douglas County School Board, referencing a resident’s comment about a lack of a “moral framework” in library’s policies.

Pasicznyuk, speaking later in the meeting, explained how the district actively avoids this, aiming to prevent personal bias from affecting the curation of the library’s collection. He said the district reviews its collection annually, including looking at every book’s rate of being checked out. Books that are checked out less often can be replaced by something else that might fit with what the community wants.

“Just because you don’t agree with something doesn’t mean you get to silence it,” Fredrickson said during public comment. “That is not what our country is about, or at least it shouldn’t be.”

This article originally appeared in Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: [email protected]. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

(PHOTO: Andrew Fraieli for Colorado Newsline)