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Call to action: reinstate the West Bend Library Board

Call to action: reinstate the West Bend Library Board

April 29, 2009

As you may have heard, the Common Council of West Bend, Wisconsin voted on April 21 to dismiss four members of the West Bend Library Board. The reason? The Common Council disagreed with the “ideology” of the Board members, and with their refusal to remove certain LGBT-themed titles from the Young Adult section of the library. Among the titles:

  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephan Chbosky’s novel about teenage depression and sexuality, which discusses homosexual relationships and issues involving sexual abuse.
  • It’s Perfectly Normal!, a book on puberty and sexuality, which contains the following text: Some people disapprove of gay men and lesbian women…. Usually these people know little or nothing about homosexuals, and their views are often based on fears or misinformation, not facts.
  • The Teenage Guy’s Survival Guide, another book on puberty, which contains the following text: First of all, despite what you think, it isn’t weird or abnormal……[to] be sexually attracted to, members of the same sex….[take it] a little further and experiment with members of the same sex. Again, there is nothing wrong with that.
  • Deal With It! : a whole new approach to your body, brain, and life as a gURL, which talks about female sexuality and female homosexuality.

In short: material that provides information on puberty, on coming out as gay, lesbian, or transgendered teen, and on teenage sexual abuse and the depression and trauma that can result from it—this is the material that the City Council, bowing to pressure from the West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries, wants to make less accessible to teenagers. Even shorter: the Council wants to restrict teenagers from reading books about puberty if those books talk positively about gay people.

The issue, according to a petition available from the West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries (available here), is to protect children from material that includes the following:

(a) [is] obscene
(b) child pornography
(c) appeals to a prurient interest in nudity, sex, or excretion
(d) depicts, describes, or represents, in a patently offensive way with respect to what is suitable for minors, an actual or simulated sexual act or sexual contact, actual or simulated normal or perverted sexual acts, or a lewd exhibition of the genitals

(The key terms here are “a prurient interest” and “a patently offensive way”. Examples of what the Citizens for Safe Libraries consider prurient depictions can be found here, here and here.)

Additionally, the Citizens for Safe Libraries ask the following:

We request that the Library Board adopt a policy to attain balance in the viewpoints of selections (both affirming and opposing) that the libraries carry in issues sufficiently controversial within the West Bend community (i.e., homosexuality). Specifically, we request faith-based and/or ex-gay books affirming traditional heterosexual perspectives be added to the library.

A letter opposing the City Council’s decision, signed by the heads of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Association of American Publishers and the PEN American Center, can be found here. From the letter:

The Constitution prohibits a public library from censoring material because some people find it offensive or distasteful… None of the challenged books is legally obscene. To be obscene, material must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. The critical acclaim the books have received testifies to their educational value, and anybody who has read them is aware that they explore a range of important issues… Professional librarians choose books to reflect a diversity of topics and viewpoints that meet the needs and interests of all patrons. Those who object to the books are entitled to their views and need not read anything that offends them, but they have no right to impose their opinions on others. If parents have concerns about their own children’s reading choices, is it their responsibility to direct and supervise them, not to expect the library to reflect their views about parenting. No one is forced to read a book because it sits on a library shelf.

As an independent press with a long history of (1) publishing and promoting traditionally oppressed voices (it’s laughable, for example, to say that librarians should stock books from the controversial and politically-motivated ex-gay movement to “balance” a guide to puberty that says that homosexuality is a viable lifestyle) and (2) opposing censorship in all its forms, we’d like to propose a call to action:

Let the Common Council know how you feel, and why you believe that “protecting” kids in small towns from books that deal favorably with homosexuality is not an appropriate action for a taxpayer-funded library to take.

Let them know that the four Library Board members should not have been dismissed for refusing to bow to unconstitutional pressure from religious groups, however many signatures on a petition those groups can gather.

Let them know that if they really do want to protect their kids—including their LGBT kids—they can best protect them by giving them access to information about their own identity and sexuality, not by stigmatizing that information as “adult” or “obscene.”

You can write a letter to the following address:

West Bend Common Council
City of West Bend
1115 S. Main Street
West Bend, Wisconsin 53095

or directly to Alderman Terry Vrana, the Council member who was most vocally in favor of the dismissal, using his publicly-available contact information:

Terry Vrana, Alderman, District 7
1115 S. Main Street
West Bend, Wisconsin 53095
phone: 262-335-5103
fax: 262-335-5164

or write to the West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries organization, whose contact information and petition can be found here:

West Bend Citizens for Safe Libraries
P.O. Box 380
Jackson, WI 53037

email: WBCITIZENS4SAFELIBRARIES at gmail dot com

Spread the word: keep kids in America safe from censorship and religious bigotry.

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