During the closed door portion of the regularly scheduled Lincolnwood Public Library Board of Trustees meeting Nov. 28 at Lincolnwood Village Hall, Library Defense members hosted a Freadom Book Swap outside of the building. Library Defense also handed out flowers.
This took place ahead of the standing-room only (with overflow into the lobby) public comments portion of the meeting's agenda, where a contentious debate took place over the inclusion of some LGBTQ+ focused books in the children's part of the library. The November meeting was moved from the library to the village hall due to the large turnout at last month's meeting, which ended early when the police were called after things got heated between the attendees.
Library Defense was created by Chicago and Niles Township residents to combat the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, including book bans and bans on Drag Queen story time events at public libraries, that the organizations AWAKE Illinois and Moms for Liberty have spread in person and on social media. The book swap was intended to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ books that are being targeted by AWAKE Illinois and Moms for Liberty for removal from public and school libraries.
AWAKE Illinois and Moms for Liberty members have shown up at a number of public library and school board meetings for almost two years to demand these book removals. So far, their protests have been unsuccessful.
"We are here to defend the library against book banning and the fascist Christian nationalist that are trying to utilize our public institutions to erase LGBTQ+, BIPOC, disabled and anyone who does not fit into their mold," said Library Defense Co-Organizer and librarian-in-training Tara Donnelly while the book swap was taking place. "Libraries are for the whole community. No one should be excluded from the library. That is why we are hereto support the library workers and board in their mission which is enshrined in the American Library Association's by-laws.
"I am really excited that everyone has come out with such a positive attitude … Once this meeting is over, the library board will have denied their request to ban a book and we will be here to stand in support of the whole community."
"[Library Defense was created] so we could start defending our libraries against people who want to continue to spread rhetoric against LGBTQ+ community members," said Library Defense member and activist Lisa Khabeer while the book swap was taking place. "We see what this has been leading to all across the country. We want to show people that there is no reason to fear us, hate us or to try and stop children from seeing themselves in books and media.
"The calls for books to be banned and the rhetoric from the hate groups has led to a rise in anti-LGBTQ+ violence across the country, including the recent mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Spring, Colorado. This cannot continue to happen and we will keep shining a light on this until the call for book bans, hateful rhetoric and violence stops."
Among the speakers were 10 who supported and six who were against the continued inclusion of certain LGBTQ+ books in the children's section. This included children's books like The Hips On The Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish and The Bare Naked Book (which is currently being repaired and will be located in the early readers nonfiction section when it is returned to circulation status at the library).
Lincolnwood resident Cary Godstein unfurled a poster with a page taken from The Bare Naked Book, and slammed its inclusion within the children's section of the library.
Teacher Susan Ginsburg said that, "We are living in a world of rampant disinformation and lies. The last thing I want is the library deciding what my child can and cannot read." She added, "Reading a book about gay people won't make you gay any more than reading a book about Einstein will make you a genius."
Ginsburg also spoke about her queer daughter and how disgusted she is that the word "groomer" is now being used to target LGBTQ+ people and their allies.
Longtime Lincolnwood resident Judy Abelson read the showtune lyrics "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" from the musical play South Pacific and said that these lyrics also apply to how people react to the LGBTQ+ community. She also said she has a gay grandchild and that the LGBTQ+ community "needs love and understanding. Parents, this is your chance to answer questions if your child asks them. This is not a time to teach hate or deny what is reality. When you are at Macy's and you don't like the purple shirt, you can't demand that they take it away. Just don't buy it. That is your choice."
"Putting books on a restricted shelf stigmatizes the book and the patron which is the goal of the extremist groups to eliminate LGBTQIA people from the public sphere," said Donnelly during the meeting. She added that putting these restrictions on LGBTQ+ books violates the American Library Association's bill of rights.
Donnelly, an Albany Park Chicago resident, also praised the Lincolnwood library board and staff for their expertise. She reminded attendees of the dangers that Moms for Liberty members are foisting on communities nationwide with their "organized astro-turfed campaign that spouts QAnon talking points and follows the orders of the extremist Christian nationalists such as Christopher Rufo and Mike Flynn that are sifted down to the local level by organizations like AWAKE Illinois and Moms for Liberty."
Bryan Johnson said it is the job of parents, not the library, to determine when or if their children learn about gender or sexuality. He also objected to certain books being read out loud at children's story time events.
Lincolnwood resident Jen Mierisch said she wanted to know what was in The Hips On The Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish so she read it. She added that "it is a garden variety picture book. I searched it cover-to-cover for anything obscene, sexual, raunchyyou would come up with a big fat zero."
"I'm not here to ask for a ban on any books," said Lincolnwood resident Rahila Siddiqui. "I'm here to fight for my right to choose when my elementary school children should be exposed to complicated topics like drag queens."
Lincolnwood District 74 teacher/librarian Mark Lasky said, "As an educator and a gay man I know the value of seeing books that affirm identities … Books are for everyone. Books can save lives."
Chicago 45th Ward Aldermanic candidate Ana Santoyo condemned "right-wing attacks on library staff" and said she came to the meeting because "it is never just about the books. It's about attacking our LGBTQ siblings and trying to push them into the shadows and we are not going to let that happen."
Santoyo also spoke about the Club Q mass shooting and said that that kind of horrific event is linked to the effort to ban books. She called banning books "state violence."
Niles Coalition member Pam Wolff said she is a member of the LGBTQ+ community and that "what you do here tonight matters. What you do here tonight can mean the difference between life or death [for members of the LGBTQ+ community]. When you ban or hide or move a book or activity due to LGBTQIA content, you are sending a message to our community that LGBTQIA people don't matter, aren't wanted and don't belong. When you call us controversial, you send a message that we are lesser, aren't valued, inhuman. You contribute to disinformation, fear and hatred. You contribute to the growing violence against our community."
Another pro-LGBTQ+ speaker defended The Bare Naked Book and brought up the many allegations against anti-LGBTQ+ GOP politicians who have been accused of molesting children and adolescents.
The main argument that the people who objected to certain LGBTQ+ books being in the children's section made is that they should be in a different location in the library, not banning them outright. Those in favor of keeping the LGBTQ+ books in the children's section said that the mere removal of them to another location in the library amounted to censorship and otherizing one community over all others.
Additionally, one speaker intimated that LGBTQ+ books are "pornographic" and that same speaker and others criticized reporting by the Chicago Tribune about the previous library board meeting, calling it "inaccurate" and "misleading" as well as questioned why the article was not corrected immediately. Some also mentioned the upcoming library board elections on April 4, 2023, which elicited one audible boo from the audience and admonishments by Lincolnwood Library Board President Sheri Doniger to stick to the topic at hand.
The formal book challenge filed against The Hips On The Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish being included in the children's section was rejected by the library board citing censorship concerns as the reason for their decision. This book was read aloud last summer during a library-sponsored story time event.