LGBTQ community members tell Anne Arundel library board programs could save lives

Original Story Link

By Selene San Felice

The LGBTQ community wants to be normal, not controversial.

That’s what community members and library staff told the Anne Arundel County Library board of trustees in Thursday’s meeting.

Although this year’s 16 mainly LGBTQ centered programs are already being planned, the board heard a second round of public comment and pushed back a decision on program policy once again at the Edgewater Community Library.

The programs were deemed “possibly controversial” by libraries CEO Skip Auld, in accordance with a policy that said novel programs need to be reviewed and approved by the board.

But there’s still confusion over whether the board should be required to vote on programming. During an intense meeting last month, the board voted to allow library staff to begin planning the programs CEO Skip Auld presented in February after they couldn’t decide whether they should vote on programs or not.

Auld sent an amendment to board policy last month that would take away the board’s right to vote on controversial programs. He was not present at Thursday’s meeting, but a draft of a completely rewritten policy was introduced.

Instead, all events would be put into a programming outreach and promotion system, which board members can view. If a program “merits their special attention,” the CEO would notify the board by email at least a week before the next meeting.

The board tabled a first read of the new policy until next month’s meeting.

Libraries spokeswoman Christine Feldmann said this policy would be the first time the board would be privy to all programming details and that notification of certain programs would be required ahead of a meeting.

“The question is, what happens then?” she asked after the meeting. “I think that’s where a lot of the confusion lies. Are they approving programs or not?”

The programs previously in question are mostly planned for June, which aligns with LGBTQ Pride Month, and include a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender film festival, more Drag Queen Storytimes, teen book talks with Annapolis Pride, a lunch-and-learn program with a transgender woman, an LGBTQ teen leadership program, rainbow storytimes for Pride Month in June and antlers Human Library program with human “books.”

The library system will also participate in the Annapolis City Pride Parade, partner with student gay/straight alliances in schools and sponsor presentations by Planned Parenthood on public health.

This is the first time in the library’s known history that the board has paid for advertising for a meeting, spokeswoman Christine Feldmann said. Advertising for the meeting ran in The Capital on Wednesday and Thursday, in addition to posts on social media and the library system’s website.

The result was 15 public LGBTQ community members, sexuality teachers and library staff calling for the programs to go forward without being deemed controversial, highlighting high rates of bullying, depression and suicide for LGBTQ youth.

Unlike last month’s meeting with a majority of public commenters opposed to the program, no one spoke in opposition. One person spoke on an unrelated issue.

Public comments occurred at the same time a handful of anti-LBGTQ protesters demonstrated at Towson University, with hundreds of counter-protestors surrounding them waving rainbow flags.

While a few people at last month’s meeting said they opposed the programs for religious reasons, a few of Thursday’s commenters said they were representing religious communities that encouraged the programs.

Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis minister Leika Lewis-Cornwell had to stop herself from crying as she asked the board to support the LGBTQ community.

Debi Jason, a queer Riviera Beach woman, said she teaches sexuality education to middle schoolers at her church and knows children in the LGBTQ community who are using public libraries.

“I want you to understand there are religious people who are perfectly accepting and welcoming and inclusive. If anyone comes up to you and says this is anti-God or anti-religion, we are not,” she said. “We’re here in Anne Arundel County. We’ve always been here in Anne Arundel County, and I think we should have our experiences reflected in the programs in this county.”

Members of the LGBTQ community also shared stories of public libraries being their place of hope.

Eric Lund, of Eastport, said he doesn’t feel controversial anymore as a gay man, but he used to. When his brother and husband’s father had trouble accepting him, Lund said they used library books to find a different point of view.

“I wonder now if some of those books might be considered controversial, even though they were stepping stones in our family healing,” Lund said.

Nancy McDonald, a gay woman from Annapolis, said she felt safe in her public library while growing up in “a hopeless situation.” She went to the library to look for books on being gay. There were no books of the kind back then, she said, and the librarians didn’t even know of any.

“In many ways, the library was my refuge, and yet when I needed it the most it couldn’t give me that,” McDonald said. “The programs here can show our children in Anne Arundel County what it’s like to be LGBT, to educate them, to inform them and to maybe give them a little bit of hope.”

Annapolis Pride leader Jeremy Browning said he was bullied in school and outcast for being gay, which led to him suffering from depression and contemplating suicide.

“When LGBTQ programs are treated differently and referred to as ‘controversial’ or ‘novel,’ it only continues to marginalize a community that still faces harassment, discrimination, and health disparities,” Browning said. “We are not controversial, we are not novelties, and we are not scary.”

Del. Heather Bagnall said she watched her LGBTQ colleagues in the theater community suffer from being outcast by their communities and families.

“For children, their default is love. Hate is a learned experience. A child that comes and hears a story from Drag Queen Storytime, all they’re seeing is a fairy princess reading them a story,” the Arnold Democrat said. “I hope we can embrace the reality that children are inherently accepting. We just have to teach them that’s OK.”