Michigan public library defunded over inclusion of LGBTQ+ materials

Story at a glance

  • Voters in Western Michigan last week defeated a measure to renew their public library’s property tax millage that is responsible for most of its annual budget over the library’s inclusion of LGBTQ+ books.

  • The Patmos Library in Jamestown Township, Mich., is now at risk of closing before the end of next year, the library board’s president has said.

  • A campaign to reject the millage renewal was led by a conservative group that accused the library of “LGBTQ ideology” to “groom” children in the community.

Voters in a Western Michigan township last week chose to defund their public library after a campaign organized by a conservative community group argued that a display of books showcasing LGBTQ+ characters and stories was “grooming children for sexual exploitation.”

In an Aug. 2 vote, residents of Jamestown Township, Mich., defeated a proposal to renew a property tax millage that funds most of Patmos Library’s yearly budget, putting it at risk of closing. Without the millage, the library is set to lose roughly 84 percent of its annual budget, Larry Walton, the library board’s president, told The Associated Press.

Walton said the vote is a result of a pressure campaign led by members of a conservative Christian group that has clashed with the library for the better part of a year. In May, Patmos Library Director Amber McLain resigned from her position, citing harassment from community members over the inclusion of LGBTQ+ children’s books.

According to McLain, most complaints stemmed from the library’s refusal to remove Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” which topped the American Library Association’s list of the top 10 most challenged books of 2021. The book’s inclusion in school and public libraries across the nation has sparked widespread outrage among parents and community members who say the book is sexually explicit and inappropriate for young readers.

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Kobabe’s novel has won several teen book awards since it was published in 2019.

Jamestown Township community members last week accused Patmos Library of attempting to “groom” children by making books like Kobabe’s easily accessible.

“They are trying to groom our children to believe that it’s OK to have these sinful desires,” Amanda Ensing, a member of the group Jamestown Conservatives, said of library officials, Bridge Michigan reported. “It’s not a political issue, it’s a Biblical issue.”

Jamestown Conservatives, according to Bridge Michigan, had spearheaded the effort to defeat the millage renewal, spending months distributing flyers and erecting yard signs to convince community members that the library had become an unsafe space for children and was promoting “LGBTQ ideology.”

For the most part, residents of Jamestown Township — a stalwart of political conservatism — listened, with more than 62 percent voting to reject the millage.

Cody Newhouse, who voted against the renewal, told Nexstar-affiliate WOOD-TV that he supported the removal of all LGBTQ+ books from the library because children are still able to access books in sections designated for adults.

“It’s only the LGBTQ stuff that bothers me, with my kids in particular,” Newhouse said. “If you’re older, make your own decision, that’s totally fine. But with the younger kids, I just believe it should be away from them.”

Patmos Library will retain its millage through the spring of 2023. After that, it will have to rely on a reserve fund of about $23,000, according to Book Riot. Walton, the library board’s president, believes it will likely run out of money before then, and could shutter as soon as next fall.

A fundraising campaign organized by Jamestown Township community member Jesse Dillman has already raised close to $60,000. The GoFundMe has a goal of $245,000 — one year’s worth of funding for the library.

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