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Anti-LGBTQIA+ Library Censorship Shuts Down Romance Book Club & Sexual Assault Awareness Event

Once that door is opened, it's really hard to close.

frustrated woman

What started as a backlash against LGBTQIA+ displays in libraries (bad enough on its own) grew into a library in Enid, Oklahoma, banning all library-sponsored activities related to sex (even health) and canceling a romance book club.

The local paper, Enid News & Eagle, reported that a library board vote on April 11 passed, 3–2, a proposal to no longer promote books or programs that include “the study of sex, sexual activity, sexual perversion, sex-based classifications, sexual preferences, sexual identity, gender identity or that are of a sexual nature.” However, like most bans and censorship cases, it was just the beginning. Officials told the paper it was to keep the books aware from the eyes of children who visited the library but assured the full meeting room of concerned citizens that an 18+ romance book club (Shameless Book Club) and an inclusive teen book club (HomoSapiens United) would remain untouched.

Because they weren’t outright banning the books, it was apparently okay in their eyes? Four days later (April 15), the library board decided the adult book club and the sexual assault prevention activities (a program with the YWCA and a book display) would not get exceptions to the new policy.

Board shifts hands

That week of chaos prompted roughly 18 applications to the three open library board seats. While at first that seems like good news, it really only solidified the library and the city’s stand against sex education and LGBTQIA+ inclusion. For one thing, of the two original board members (Margaret Warren) who voted not to ban all sex-related programming and displays did not get reelected. Even with each city commissioner being allowed to vote three times, she received no votes.

The new board members include Brent Price (who has led faith-based abstinence-only education) and Christina Hopper (a home-school parent), so I doubt there will be any reversal on these decisions without constant pressure. They both told the Enid News & Eagle something along the lines of keeping the library a “neutral” place families could go to. This logic fails to realize that health education, equality, and inclusion for the queer community is only “not neutral” because they do not see everyone as equal. I really can’t with these people.

I wish I could say this were at least only limited to one place you learned about just reading this, but this is happening everywhere. For example, The Washington Post recently covered a story of a library board takeover in Texas. This Texas group solidified board power by (possibly illegally) closing what are supposed to be public meetings and voting in white women who attend their church.

Romance books and talking about sex

Between the banning of the book club and the banning of the sexual assault awareness activities, the latter is much worse. April is Sexual Assualt Awareness Month, so library staff planned a display, the book club, and an event with the local YWCA. People not knowing the signs of predatory behavior, what resources exist to help them, and that they aren’t alone is a huge problem. However, as many romance readers point out, these two things go hand in hand.

The fact that the club’s name was Shameless Book Club really says everything. If people don’t know and can’t talk about what is healthy and not healthy behavior (especially consent!), that only benefits the perpetrators of violence. The basic template of modern romance books acts as a vessel to talk about many different relationships and life-related issues. Sometimes this is intentional, and other times it’s not (looking at Daphne in The Duke and I). This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyways: This education also applies to non-heterosexual relationships. Everyone needs to be comfortable with discussing the good and the bad.

Public libraries are next

According to the American Library Association (ALA), in 2021, public library challenges made up 37% of censorship cases. However, any censorship against ALA standards (who set librarians’ code of ethics) and really beyond is terrible. Censorship isn’t just taking the book (for example) off the shelf. It’s avoiding purchasing certain types of books, or setting up displays or holding programming related to that topic because of pushback.

In 2021, 5% of programs/meeting rooms and 4% of book censorship attempts came for displays/exhibits. Book banning gets all the attention, but these other aspects matter, too. Displays are an immediate visual cue that you belong, whereas programming shows a long-lasting investment to the community.

Back in November, when I made a list of how to help fight library censorship, I stopped short of asking people to actually join library boards. They are run differently place to place, and the time commitment could be anything from 6 hours per month to 20+, which is not feasible to most people. However, if you have already been involved and have the time, please consider this, too—if not outright running, at least attending the meetings (often monthly).

(via Twitter, featured image: Shutterstock)

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(she/her) Award-winning artist and blogger with experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time watching movies, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Balder's Gate 3, Apex Legends, and CS:GO.