Michigan Town Votes to Defund Library Over Books With Graphic Sexual Content

Michigan Town Votes to Defund Library Over Books With Graphic Sexual Content
A file image of a school library. (John Moore/Getty Images)
Bill Pan

Residents of a town in western Michigan have overwhelmingly voted to not renew a property tax millage that has helped fund their public library following a battle over LGBT-themed books with explicit illustrations.

More than 60 percent of Jamestown Township voters voted “no” on Aug. 2 to a 10-year millage renewal and a tax increase for the local library. Roughly 3,000 people, representing a third of the township’s population, participated in the election.

The bulk of the library’s $245,000 annual budget comes from the now-defeated millage, which means that the Patmos Library will run out of money in early 2023, according to library board President Larry Walton. It also means that residents won’t have their property taxes raised by $24.

Walton told Bridge Michigan that he “wasn’t expecting” the battle over graphic LGBT-themed books to end the way it did, saying it was “very disappointing” for people to be “short-sighted” in closing the library over those materials.

“We’re all for the library. I use it,” Jamestown resident Sarah Johnson told the media outlet after voting to defund the library. “We want to make a statement that we want some say in the books.”

According to Bridge Michigan, a parent complained earlier this year about the library’s inclusion of Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir.” The book depicts a variety of sexual acts, including the self-described nonbinary author’s sexual experiences. When asked to take “Gender Queer” out of circulation, the library board instead put it behind the counter so that children wouldn’t be able to access it.

Jamestown residents also reportedly took issue with some other titles, including “Spinning,” a graphic novel about a teenage lesbian skater, and “Kiss Number 8,” a graphic novel with similar homosexual themes. Despite popular demand for their removal, the board insisted on keeping those books in the young adult section.

Patmos Library officials couldn’t be reached for comment.

Nathan Triplett, president of the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), praised Patmos for refusing to “give in to the demand” of the people whose tax dollars support the library’s operation.

“It’s a credit to the staff and board leadership of the Patmos Library that they have steadfastly refused to give in to demand that they purge their collection of LGBTQ materials. We need more of that courage and resolve today,” Triplett wrote on Twitter, in response to a post by the national ACLU regarding what it called “censorship” in school and public libraries.

Progressive activists have decried “censorship” when concerned parents seek transparency in what their children are being exposed to and challenge sexually explicit books in classrooms or libraries.

In Virginia, under a new policy (pdf) set to be released under the administration of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, schools must alert parents of all “sexually explicit content” and post all materials used for the lessons and curriculum on the school’s website at least 30 days before those lessons take place. The policy states that it’s designed to help parents make education-related decisions that match their own “customs, faith and values.”

The ACLU claims such a policy will “lead to classroom censorship.”

“As drafted, the proposed model policies codify and force all Virginia school districts to adopt this anti-free speech practice and will only exacerbate an alarming trend toward classroom censorship, all while denying students the opportunity to be inspired by stories of people from all walks of life trying to live authentically in school curriculum,” the Virginia chapter of ACLU stated.