San Diego Library Protest Against Pride Books Draws Backlash

Adrianne Peterson, manager of the San Diego Public Library’s Rancho Peñasquitos branch, was actually a little embarrassed by the modest size of her Pride Month display in June. Between staff vacations and organizing workshops for high school students, it fell through the cracks, leaving less than she expected to deliver.

Still, the kiosk across from the checkout counter, marked with a Progress Pride rainbow flag, was enough to propel the suburban library to the front lines of the nation’s culture wars.

Ms. Peterson, who has run the library branch since 2012 and has highlighted books for Pride Month for the past decade, was shocked when she read an email from two neighborhood residents last month. They told her that all the books in the Pride Display had been checked out and that they would not return them until the library permanently removed what they considered “inappropriate content.”

“It’s kind of like, ‘Oh, curveball,'” Ms. Peterson said. “Oh, have I misunderstood our society?” I began to wonder.

Soon, she would have her answer: Stacks of Amazon boxes containing new copies of books that protesters had checked out began arriving at the library after the San Diego Union-Tribune. Informed about the protest. About 180 people, mostly San Diegans, gave more than $15,000 to the library system, which will provide more than $30,000 in LGBTQ-themed materials and programming after a citywide contest, including an expansion of the system’s already popular drag queen storytimes.

In an ever-divided nation, Americans wage wars in ways large and small, from turning their library cards into weapons of resistance.

Right-wing activists have challenged the recognition of June as Pride month and sought to remove textbooks from schools and LGBTQ-affirming picture books from libraries. In Republican-led states, incumbents use their power to change policy and ban products contested by conservatives.

But even in California and other Democratic-led states, Pride events and protests against LGBTQ-themed books have erupted in recent weeks.

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In the liberal bastion of North Hollywood in Los Angeles, a Pride flag was burned at an elementary school. Fighting protests A few days later, a Pride assembly turned into a scuffle outside the campus. In Temecula, not far from San Diego, the school board has a conservative majority twice Rejected elementary school supplies To discuss slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk and LGBTQ history, Gov. Gavin Newsom agreed to receive them after threatening to fine the school district $1.5 million for not complying with state standards.

In Chino, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond was kicked out of a school board meeting Thursday after criticizing a conservative plan to notify parents if a student asks to use a name or pronoun that doesn’t match their birth certificate.

In San Diego, supporters of LGBTQ rights were quick to confront opponents. City Council member Marni von Wilpert, who represents Rancho Peñasquitos, condemned the library protest against Pride Books and asked the community to help restore the scene.

Like many Southern California suburbs, Rancho Peñasquitos, northeast of San Diego, was once solidly Republican territory. But the community has become more liberal over the years, attracting a diverse range of residents with its top-rated schools and views of the Pacific Ocean. Ms. Van Wilbert is the first Democrat to represent the neighborhood.

The political shift reflects changes at large in San Diego. Long known as a military town with religious roots that date back to the first Spanish mission in California, the city has favored Republicans for much of its history. But like the rest of the state, San Diego has grown more diverse after decades of immigration and the establishment of a burgeoning biotech industry.

The city also embraces the LGBTQ community; In 2020, voters elected Todd Gloria as San Diego’s first openly gay mayor and sent Tony Atkins to the state legislature, where he became the first lesbian to serve as speaker of each house. Both are Democrats.

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Ms. Van Wilbert grew up in Rancho Penasquitos and won a close race to represent her home district in 2020. Democrats now have diversity Independents are registered voters, as are Republicans. Ms. Van Wilbert, a member of the LGBTQ community, said she appreciates how quickly her neighbors rallied in support of the library.

“Suburban, formerly conservative communities still haven’t bought into this culture war idea that we can’t have love and tolerance and acceptance,” he said. “It was amazing.”

Conservative groups have proposed banning books discussing LGBTQ issues from libraries and schools across the country, saying parents can control what their children are taught.

Amy M. Vance and Martha Martin, San Diego residents who sent emails to the Rancho Peñasquitos library, did not respond to requests for comment. Municipal officials said they have not yet heard from library patrons.

The text of their email was similar to a template posted online by Catholic Vote, a right-wing group with an office in Indiana that is not affiliated with the Catholic Church. The group has promoted a “hide the pride” campaign that encourages supporters to check out or move books that depict LGBTQ characters and families. Organizers have described such material as lewd and lascivious and said it should not be available to young library patrons.

“The library has to exercise its discretion in how to make certain content available to people who have very different beliefs about whether it’s appropriate for boys,” said Brian Burch, president of Catholic Vote.

Among the books on the group’s target list are “Julian is a Mermaid,” a picture book about a little boy whose grandmother takes him to a mermaid parade in Coney Island, and “Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress,” another picture book about a boy who uses his imagination to wear an orange dress to school. Both were raided by protesters in San Diego.

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Mr. Burch said. But if one decides to keep a book indefinitely, “that’s great,” he said.

The mission of public libraries is to provide access to any type of information, even if it is offensive to some, said Misty Jones, director of the San Diego Public Library. The San Diego Library System also does not restrict children from materials containing adult content, according to its library card form.

As book challenges have exploded in the past two years, librarians say it has become more difficult to maintain open access.

Last year, 2,571 unique titles faced censorship attempts — a 38 percent increase over 2021 and a record high. American Library Association. ALA documented 1,269 requests to audit library books or materials, the highest number since the association began collecting data more than two decades ago.

In Greenville, S.C., library board members It tried to ban two dozen titles This year, they eventually abandoned that effort in favor of more restrictive rules Books on Gender Identity for Adults. Last year, a Michigan city demonetized its library After librarians refused to remove LGBTQ-themed books.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, who serves as director of the association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, said protesters in San Diego and elsewhere have taken advantage of lax policies aimed at making books accessible to patrons who can’t afford the hefty fines.

In the San Diego Public Library system, cardholders receive five updates for items unless requested by someone else. Then, if a book is out of date, library patrons have two months to return it before it is considered lost, and will then be charged for it.

“Things intended to expand access have been weaponized to engage in censorship,” Ms Caldwell-Stone said.

At the Rancho Peñasquitos Library, the Pride display is replenished. As for books checked last month?

They were recently repatriated.

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