In an unusual sight, people packed into the Crook County Library on Thursday night for a meeting of its board.
The topic at hand had drawn the standing room crowd: namely, whether or not to segregate LGBTQ-friendly children’s books into a separate section.
By the end of the night, the crowd had spoken overwhelmingly in support of keeping the books where they are, and the board voted 4-1 to not place the books in a special section of the library.
Library Director April Witteveen said the debate started in May when a group of local elementary school children visited the library. One student took home one of the library’s LGBTQ books. Soon after, with little to no explanation, the school stopped sending children to the library during school hours. Witteveen said the school does not have a library and students haven’t returned since.
Speaking at Thursday night’s meeting, former library board member and president ZueAnne Neal said she had started falling for the rhetoric around the books, as some community members called them dangerous for children.
Neal, appearing to be on the verge of tears, apologized to the crowd for at one point recommending the books be marked with a sticker or other identifying mark as a way to compromise between the sides.
“That was a sad, sad day,” she said.
Neal noted that after she did more research on the books, she found them to be age-appropriate and that placing the books into a separate section could create stigma, as well as potentially cost the library through lost funding and First Amendment lawsuits.
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Some speakers pushed back on the notion that marking the books would ostracize people who wanted to check them out, calling such descriptions “misinformation.” Supporters of the move said marking the books would make it more clear for people who wanted to view the material, as well as those who wanted to avoid it.
Crook County is just one of hundreds of libraries across the country that have been targeted for allegedly making available LGBTQ books that contain child pornography. It comes amid a broader national debate over what educational materials should be available to children, especially those discussing racism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination.
Labeling queer people as pedophiles and dangers to children is a strategy used by anti-LGBTQ activists for decades.
One library in Jamestown, Michigan, found itself in a similar situation to Prineville in August, with residents there voting to block a tax levy on two separate occasions, meaning the small library lost 84% of its funding. The presence of LGBTQ books sparked the demand to cut the library’s funding, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Neal, the former library board president, said after looking into the issue, she ultimately came to see segregating books as a form of hate.
“If it roots here, it won’t end here,” she said. “It will just grow.”
The book issue in Crook County isn’t the first time Central Oregon has recently been roiled by misinformation involving LGBTQ people. In October, the Culver School District in nearby Jefferson County found itself in a controversy after pulling young students from a camp over false allegations about non-binary counselors.
Related: Central Oregon school district pulls students from camp minutes after learning of nonbinary counselors