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The Campbell County Public Library Board fires their library director over sex education & LGBTQ books

From left to right, Levi Figg, Mickey Loughrey and Giselle Nemitz play at the Montessori School of the Tetons, one potential recipient of child care funding.
Dee Buckstaff
Campbell County Public Library
The children's section at Campbell County Public Library in Gillette.

The Campbell County Public Library Board voted 4-1 at a special meeting on July 28 to dismiss Library Director Terri Lesley. Despite not giving an official reason for her dismissal, it comes after board chair Charles Butler and board member Sage Bear asked for Lesley’s resignation a day earlier due to Lesley’s refusals to remove or relocate books on sex education and LGBTQ issues aimed at children and teens.

“When I refused to move books, without going through the challenge process as outlined in the library board's updated collection development policy, the board basically tried to use the weeding process as a way to circumvent this process,” Lesley said. “[It] wouldn't be a challenge process at all and essentially would pass under the radar of the general public as opposed to going through the challenge process, which would require the board members and the person to acknowledge that they had read the book, and for the board to make the ultimate decision to move that book.”

Lesley also expressed concern that relocating books aimed at children and teens to the adult section or removing them from the library entirely would amount to censorship and open herself, the library, the board, and the county to the possibility of lawsuits.

Lesley added Butler initially told her that he wanted to meet to discuss the library’s monthly meeting on July 24, where it was made known that Lesley could be dismissed in the near future. Butler was then accompanied by Bear on July 27, both of whom asked for her resignation, which Lesley refused to do. A special meeting was then scheduled for the following day.

“Prior to that Friday meeting, I requested a public hearing the Wyoming executive sessions that gave me the opportunity to request a public hearing because of [a possible] dismissal, and my idea of a public hearing is that I have the right to defend myself and a right to confront my accusers about these allegations in front of the public, but instead the board's Attorney Greg Thomas only allowed me to make a public statement,” she said. “Everything that was reasoned or discussed for my firing was held out of the public session and I wasn't even allowed to attend that.”

Lesley also criticized the board for not being transparent about what specific titles they wanted her to consider.

“The board flatly refused to tell me which books they think should be moved even when I’ve questioned them, they have put the burden completely on me and not on them,” she said. “They are the ultimate authority on all that goes on at the library.”

Some of these books included in the library’s collection have drawn the ire nationwide, including “Gender Queer,” “Heather Has Two Mommies,” and “This Book is Gay,” among others.

Hundreds of residents gathered for a special meeting at the library on July 28, many of whom were supportive of Lesley, though a few dozen spoke in support of the board’s actions to dismiss her. The meeting began in executive session, followed by a statement from Lesley. Over 30 people signed up to give public comment, though Butler ended it after one commenter used profanity, deemed a violation of public comment rules.

“When you start outlawing books because of your personal, religious and moral beliefs in this country, you’re going against the Constitution, you’re going against what we were founded for,” said meeting attendee Nick Jessen per the Gillette News-Record. “You’re personally an affront to myself and most of the people I know. This is a sh-t show and I’m embarrassed for this board.”

The board then went into another executive session, after which they voted to dismiss Lesley, who had been director since 2012 and with the library 27 years.

Wyoming Public Media has requested comment from Butler about the board’s vote but hasn’t received a response.

“We went through a year of book challenges, and then I've been going through another year with a completely different board of directors, and so I had kind of thought there was a possibility at that time when these appointments were made [that I would be dismissed],” Lesley said. “We made it through a whole year. So I started to feel a little more comfortable that I might not get fired after all, [but it’s] not a complete surprise.”

This wasn’t the first time the board and some members of the community called for Lesley’s dismissal. Since the summer of 2021, library board meetings have often become a venue for those who seek to remove or relocate materials over objections they have about the appropriateness of these books for children and teens while others advocate for the freedom to read regardless if some find them objectionable.

The board will name an interim director as well as begin searching for a permanent replacement. Lesley said she was aware of someone that might fill the role, though she was uncertain if that person will be selected.

“The thing that I feel the most concern for and care about the most is the staff. I'm going to be fine, I hope,” she said. “I just hope that the staff will be okay, that they won't be put in the same untenable situation that I was put in and that they'll be treated with the respect that they deserve and that this won't be too hard on them.”

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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