Michigan residents vote to defund public library again over LGBTQ books

Residents of a Western Michigan town on Tuesday voted for a second time to defund their only public library, putting it in jeopardy of closing permanently and closing out the latest chapter in a months-long battle between the library and community members outraged over books centered around LGBTQ issues and identities.

Nearly 56 percent of voters in Jamestown Township, Mich., rejected a proposal to renew a property tax that accounts for more than 80 percent of the annual operating budget for the Patmos Library, according to county election results.

On Thursday, the library wrote on its Facebook page that its hours of operation would be reduced for a number of days, citing staff shortages. In a statement to Bridge Michigan last week, however, Library Board President Larry Walton warned that the Patmos Library would be forced to shrink its operating hours if the property tax proposal failed on Tuesday.

The library, which has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in online donations since it was first defunded in August, is likely to run out of money by early 2024, according to Walton.

Jamestown Township community members in August voted overwhelmingly in favor of rejecting the renewal of the library’s property tax millage — the result of a successful pressure campaign led by the right-wing group Jamestown Conservatives that included accusations that the library was “grooming” children for sexual exploitation by making LGBTQ-themed books available to them.

“They are trying to groom our children to believe that it’s OK to have these sinful desires,” Jamestown Conservatives member Amanda Ensing told Bridge Michigan in August.

Key Patmos Library staff members, including former Director Amber McLain, have resigned over the past year because of harassment from community members angered by the library’s refusal to remove LGBTQ children’s books.

Most outrage has been directed at nonbinary author Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir” — one of the most frequently challenged books of 2021, according to the American Library Association.

Kobabe’s graphic novel has won several teen book awards since it was published in 2019, though critics argued its LGBTQ content and depictions of sex make it inappropriate for young readers.

Prior to Tuesday’s vote, members of the Patmos Library Board said in a statement that they were humbled by the outpouring of support and thankful for the donations, which they said will help the library “weather the immediate crisis.”

“However, we know very clearly that what this library needs to remain open over the long term is to pass the 10-year levy renewal in November,” the library board wrote. “We cannot run the Patmos Public Library for the next decade without stable taxpayer support.”

“If the levy passes, we will remain a public library and use the donations to add to our capacities,” the board continued. “If the levy fails, we will put these donations to work in the best way we can for as long as we can.”

Jamestown Township resident Jesse Dillman, who organized an online fundraising campaign to keep the library open after the initial August vote, wrote in an update to donors on Friday that he would be ending the fundraiser despite the failed millage vote.

“As much as I appreciate the amazing support, I don’t think it’s right to continually limp our Patmos library along by private donations,” Dillman wrote. “My intention here was to keep the library open long enough for a new millage vote within next year, which you all have made possible with your generosity.”

Dillman’s GoFundMe campaign for the library raised nearly $265,000 for the Patmos Library from 4,700 donors, including the romance novelist Nora Roberts, who made a $50,000 donation in September.

Another GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $8,000 for the library.

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