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Some Campbell County residents are seeking the removal of books from the public library

A man holds a sign that reads "CCPL Knowingly Encourages Sex for Minors" at a Campbell County City Council meeting
Hugh Cook
Wyoming Public Radio
Signs in support and in opposition to the library's decision to include books aimed at children and teens about LGBTQ issues, sex education, and gender identity are seen in the county commissioners chambers during a Campbell County Library Board meeting in October 2021.

Since last July, there has been a sustained effort by some residents in Campbell County to have the Campbell County Public Library (CCPL) relocate or remove books aimed at children and teens about topics such as LGBTQ issues, gender identity, and sex education.

Recently, flyers demanding the resignations and/or removal of the current boardmembers and the library director were sent to members of the board from MassResistance, an organization that some local activists and community members have been in contact with since last summer.

"Most pro-family organizations want to hold conferences, give talks, and public papers," said Arthur Schaper, Organization Director for MassResistance. "We focus on organizing, parents particularly, and citizens generally, to fight the LGBT agenda, the destructive cultural Marxist agenda in all of its forms. We've seen these destructive behaviors go from the bedroom to the boardroom to the classroom, invading the public square, harming public health, harming the natural rights of all citizens—and our goal is to push back and put an end to this agenda."

Involvement with MassResistance begins with members in local communities contacting the organization by email or phone. Though originating and headquartered in Massachusetts, Schaper said that they have staff and activists in all 50 states, with presences in Canada, the United Kingdom (UK), and the Cayman Islands. Schaper also stated they’ve also worked with activists in Taiwan, Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico.

"Our goal is [that] we want to stop the LGBT agenda at its core, we want to expose the lies of this agenda, we want to eliminate the funding, promotion and privileges, and we want to educate and equip everyday people to defeat this agenda," he said. "The public needs to recognize that the parents, particularly the citizens generally there in Campbell County and throughout the state, are rightfully outraged, and it is shameful that you have the chairman of the library board to insist on protecting these books and the arrogant disdain of the library director, who under the supported guise of preventing censorship or supporting First Amendment rights, is allowing these filthy books to be in the library."

However, Schaper's claim that there is mass outrage in Campbell County over the books contrasts with other feedback that members of the Library Board have received.

"In my experience, it has been 98 percent positive," said Library Board member Miranda Finn. "At this point, because I do keep a tally on my phone, I've received positive feedback in the hundreds from people saying 'Thank you for doing what you are doing. Thank you for standing up for the library. Thank you for standing up for free speech.' I've received a total of two negative emails from the public."

She said the topic has caused divisions in the community.

"I think that there's a tendency to look at this as very black and white," Finn said. "If you support the library, you don't support children. If you don't support the inclusion of LGBTQ, then you're bigoted. I don't think it's that simple, but I feel that's the way the debate is being framed in the community, and I find that to be really unfortunate."

The CCPL acknowledges that some of the materials that it includes in its collection may be considered offensive by some in the community and that it doesn't endorse the content of materials. They consider the merits of adding the books, along with durability, cost, circulation statistics, and requests from the community.

"Books are selected as per our collection development policy, which is approved by the Library Board of Trustees," said CCPL Director Terri Lesley in an email to Wyoming Public Media. "The policy aligns with our mission to provide diverse cultural opportunities for reading, learning and entertainment to all citizens of our community."

Approximately 30 books have been challenged or appealed for either removal from the children and/or teen section to regular adult circulation, or outright removal from the library.

"While the Library Board does not make final decisions for individual books, the board policy sets requirements for what staff may add to the collection," Lesley said. "When a book challenge is issued by a patron, and when a decision is appealed by the patron to the library board, the board reviews the characteristics of the item to assure it was selected in accordance with the collection development policy."

Since last summer, concerns have been expressed about the following books:

o This Book is Gay, by Juno Dawson (challenged to library board)

o Trans Mission- My Quest to a Beard, by A. Bertie (challenged to library board)

o The V-Word: True Stories about First-Time Sex, by Amber Keyser (challenged to library board)

o Mary Wears What She Wants, by Keith Negley (challenged to library board)

o Meena, by Ine Van Mol (challenged to library board)

o Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities, by G., Mady (challenged to library board)

o Music from Another World, by Robin Talley (challenged to library board)

o The Babysitters Coven, by Kate Williams (challenged to library board)

o Sex Plus: learning, loving and enjoying your body, by Laci Green (challenged to library board)

o Desmond is Amazing, by Desmond (challenged to library board)

o Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe (moved by manager from Young Adult Graphic Novel to Adult Graphic Novel) subsequently appealed to Library Director to remove from library completely; appeal denied by director; patron did not appeal to library board)

o A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability, by A. Andrews (moved by manager from Young Adult Graphic Novel to Adult Graphic Novel)

o The Black Flamingo, by Dean Atta

o Heartstopper, by Alice Oseman

o Jane Against the World, by Karen Blumenthal

o My Body My Choice, by Robin Stevenson

o How Do You Make a Baby? by Anna Fiske

o Doing It!: Let’s Talk About Sex, by Hannah Witton

o Rainbow: A First Book of Pride, by Michael Genhart

o Dating and Sex, by Andrew Smiler

o Jack (Not Jackie), by Erica Silverman

o Lawn Boy, by Jonathan Evison

o Period Power, by Nadya Okamoto

o Heather has Two Mommies, by Leslea Newman

o It’s Not the Stork!by Robie Harris

o Sex is a Funny Word, by Cory Silberberg

o You Be You, by Jonathan Branfman

o The Gender Identity Workbook for Kids, by Kelly Storck

o Asking About Sex and Growing Up, by Joanna Cole

Opponents of the books often equate them to pornography and claim that the library is incentivizing sexually inappropriate and deviant behavior.

"We received considerable samples of content from Gender Queer, This Book is Gay, and other books," Schaper said. "These activists, these mothers and fathers, these leaders in the community who reached out to us, they recognized the dangers, the harms long-term of exposing pornographic images to children. And they wanted to do something about it, they didn’t just want to complain—they want the books gone, which is an appropriate response, it is a necessary response."

"We've had people shouted down for reading from the contents of some of these books being objected to," said regular meeting attendee Hugh Bennett during an October library board meeting. "My point being this, if we, as adults, are unwilling to hear it in public, how can we in good conscience provide it for kids that should be supervised by their adults, but not all families, as the LGBTQ lobby tells us, are not the same and not all parents have the ability to monitor their children's actions as well as they should."

Last year, Bennett and his wife, Susan, went to the Campbell County's Sheriff’s Department and asked them to investigate alleged criminal activity at the CCPL. To avoid a conflict of interest amid advice from the Wyoming State Bar, the case was referred to Weston County.

Weston County Attorney Michael Stulken declined to file charges against the CCPL, citing Wyoming Statute 6-2-318, which states that: "Anyone who has reached the age of majority and who solicits, procures or knowingly encourages anyone less than the age of fourteen (14) years, to engage in sexual intrusion as defined in W.S. 6-2-301 is guilty of a felony, and upon conviction shall be imprisoned for a term of not more than five (5) years."

Stulken went on to state that the books didn't meet the Wyoming statute for obscenity, writing, "The books in question do not, when applying contemporary community standards, criminally describe sexual conduct in a patently offensive manner and they may have scientific value. Accordingly, since these materials are not 'obscene' as defined by Wyoming Law, the State of Wyoming could not commence criminal charges."

So far, the library board has voted to keep the books in their respective sections.

"It appears to me that the standard is an obscenity standard [that opponents claim the books violate] and that none of the books we’ve seen come close to that standard," said CCPL Board Chairman Charlie Anderson. "I've read every one of the books that's come up on appeal just so I feel good about any decision I would make, and that’s what guided my decision-making."

Anderson, who is a lawyer and has practiced law for nearly 50 years, said that a U.S. Supreme Court case, Miller v. California, which Schaper claimed the challenged books violated, was decided in 1972 and suffers from being outdated. He added that the case was primarily about community standards and referenced adult entertainment venues in places like New York City and San Francisco and was decided before before LGBTQ rights, the internet, and a variety of consensual sexual behaviors were legal, including in Wyoming.

"It's been cited with approval by our local Federal Circuit so it’s applicable in Wyoming," Anderson said in an email to Wyoming Public Media. "It's a case about efforts to remove books from public libraries in Texas because they dealt with LGBT themes. The case finds that moving a book to an area where its intended audience is unlikely to see it is prohibited under the first amendment."*

A major effort of MassResistance, in addition to local activists, is to remove local officials who don't meet their demands. Recently, Dr. Hollie Stewart, the former board chair, resigned. Two additional board members' terms end on June 30th. There have been 11 applications for the lone vacancy.

"Until our meeting in July [of 2021], we'd never had public comments at our meetings because we never had anybody from the public coming to our meetings," Anderson said.

The Campbell County Commission selects the library board. Three commissioners have shared concerns about a few of the challenged and appealed books.**

"I don't know what they're going to do," Anderson said regarding the commission's upcoming decisions to fill library board vacancies. "I hope whoever they appoint has an interest in running a library. If it's just people who are activists, they may find that very little of what the library does really speaks to these big issues."

Editor's Note: Previously we noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center designated MassResistance as an anti-LGBTQ hate group. After reviewing the matter, we will now simply refer to them as an anti-LGBTQ group.

Corrected: April 22, 2022 at 2:34 PM MDT
*The case that Anderson is referring to in this quote is Sund v. City of Wichita Falls, Tex., a ruling that was made in 2000, not Miller v. California. Additional text on the the latter has been included as to Anderson's explanation of the case.

**Three commissioners have shared their concerns to the library, though not all three have appealed or challenged book(s) to the library board. Commissioner Colleen Faber has addressed the board publicly about her concerns as well.
Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.

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