The tale of two librarians fired by a homophobic library board in Sterling just escalated.
Now, the board will have to defend its bigotry in court.
Fired librarian Kari Wheeler, her assistant Brandy Lancaster, and other concerned citizens have filed suit against the library board, three of its members, and the city government, claiming that the rights of everyone have been violated by the open, over-the-top and vicious anti-LGBTQ censorship that occurred at the Sterling library three months ago.
And that, friends and neighbors, is a really, really good thing.
And before you jump to the conclusion (as some assuredly will) that this is just me supporting a liberal cause, I can assure you I’d be every bit as infuriated if a Bernie-backing board banned books by Donald Trump.
That’s not how free societies do business. It never has been. It never will be.
And the board of the “Sterling Free Public Library” is very much in need of a reminder that the “free” in the library’s name doesn’t just refer to the cost of checking out a book.
I wrote about this controversy when it first came up, but the lawsuit spells out the details of the lengths this board was willing to go to in their crusade against anything that might be interpreted as not prejudiced enough against LGBTQ individuals.
We already knew about board member Michelle Miller clashing with the librarians, who balked at Miller’s demand that the library ban all displays of rainbows during Pride Month. The rainbows at issue were a collage of a girl in a wheelchair sitting in front of one and the international logo of autism awareness, a rainbow-colored infinity symbol.
And we knew that after Wheeler found a donor to buy the library a complete set of this year’s William Allen White Award children’s books, Miller and other board members pressured her to hide “Flight of the Puffin” in her desk drawer and not check it out to anybody because it contains a non-binary character.
What we didn’t know was that this board’s anti-LGBTQ bigotry extended all the way to dishonoring America by boycotting the town’s Fourth of July celebration.
From the lawsuit: “The Library Board had always supported either the parade or the celebration afterward. Miller and other board members discussed that this year’s Fourth of July parade would include a ‘Pride’ float. That was the only reason anyone suggested that the Library Board not support the parade as it had in the past. After the anti-Pride, anti-LBGT statements, the board voted not to support the Fourth of July parade. No board member challenged the anti-Pride statements as the basis for refusing to support the parade.”
Somehow, that seems more disrespectful to the U.S.A. than some members of the women’s soccer team not singing the Star Spangled Banner or Colin Kaepernick kneeling on a football field, but I’ll leave it to uber-conservative Americans to work out that little bit of cognitive dissonance.
Also, the lawsuit reveals that board minutes were altered from their original form to claim that Wheeler was “combative” with Miller while arguing over the rainbow pictures.
If she was, good for her.
With all the book-banning going on around the country, this is a battle than desperately needs to be fought — and won.
The best thing about this lawsuit is that it includes not only the librarians, but also library patrons claiming their right to read what they want, and to be represented in library displays, is being infringed by the board.
It cuts to the heart of ongoing efforts of fundamentalist extremists to marginalize their fellow human beings and suppress the voices of anyone who dares to disagree with their constrained world view.
“Public libraries are public forums,” the lawsuit says. “When the government that runs them begins to make decisions based on content, that government runs afoul of the First Amendment. Patrons of public libraries have a First Amendment right to information unburdened by the efforts of those in charge of materials and displays to indoctrinate others to their personal viewpoints.”
The fervent hope here is that this lawsuit sends a loud, clear message to local governments throughout the nation that a public library’s not to be used as a tool to advance its controlling members’ personal, political and religious beliefs.
The views of the Sterling Free Library board — repugnant though they may be — should be represented there.
But so should everyone else’s.