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Conformity or Bigotry?

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

By James LaRue

A woman took her three-year-old grandson to one of our branch libraries regularly, and was grateful for all the services we provided. She had noticed before that one of our staff was transitioning from male to female. She said she’d thought, “Whatever. A sign of the times.”

But one day, after having her books checked out by this staff member, she followed another grandmother and preschooler out the door. Then she heard the other grandchild ask, “What’s wrong with that librarian?”

The more she thought about it, the more incensed she got. She complained about it to me on the phone. She asked, “Don't I have the right to go to a safe place, a place that doesn’t raise those kinds of questions?” Then she shot a series of questions at me: What was the sex of the staff person? Were they allowed to read to children? If so, what books did they choose to read? Was the person mentally ill?

I asked her, “What are you saying? You want me to fire this person?” She backtracked for a moment, then told me that, at the least, the staff member shouldn’t be allowed to read books to children. Or to check out books. Then she told me that “a man pretending to be a woman” was as deeply offensive as someone dressed in blackface would be. She said if I wasn’t going to “work with” her, she’d take her concerns to the county commissioners. “We’re done!” she said, and hung up.

As a matter of both federal and Colorado law, at least at this writing, it is expressly forbidden, it is illegal, to discriminate on the basis of sex or gender. As I managed to tell the complainant earlier in the conversation, the only thing that mattered to me as a public administrator was that my staff provided good service.

I never got the opportunity to say that the rest of it was none of my business, and none of hers. Nor was I able to respond that asking questions—whether about gender or anything else—is kind of the whole point of a library.

I discussed the encounter with the staff person and assured them (their preferred pronoun) that their job was not in jeopardy. They indicated their willingness to speak with the patron and answer anything—provided the patron spoke respectfully. While I acknowledged the grace and courage of that stance, I said they were under no obligation to do so. We serve the public. We are not their doormats.

But I mention this as the rawest and clearest example I can find of what’s behind the attempt to remove LGBTQ+ materials from libraries. It’s not about books. It’s about people. How quickly a demand for the removal of books can become a demand that some human beings should not be allowed to work!

Most of the people in my community, or our nation, do not share this viewpoint. But the self-righteousness of the bigotry, the certainty that it would or should be shared by politicians, is a worrisome sign.

An attack on library books is an attack on human rights.

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