ST. GEORGE – Last month a Washington County Library employee took concerns that the library system was censoring LGBTQ-themed displays and materials to the local press when attempts to resolve the matter internally fell short. The response sparked a forum Thursday organized by Equality Utah at the St. George branch of the county library.
Ammon Treasure, an eight-year employee of the Washington County Library System and member of the LGBTQ community, repeated his story Thursday night, saying when he originally brought up the issue, he was told that the library doesn’t advocate for one side or another and should remain free of controversy.
An attempt to keep the library controversy-free
Treasure explained that the original incident occurred during June 2017 when fellow library employee Natalie Daniel created a display at the Hurricane library sporting an LGBTQ theme for Pride Month. The display had a banner that read “Got Pride?” and offered research materials while also highlighting a selection of related books.
“I went with the ‘Got Pride?’ slogan because I thought it would be humorous,” Daniel said Thursday, making reference to the “Got Milk?” ad campaign. “We were told to change it to ‘June is Pride Month’ and take down all of the research material. That was the part I was most upset about.”
Washington County Library System director Joel Tucker responded Thursday by saying Hurricane library employees were directed to change the display to something more neutral and seemingly less advocating in nature due to receiving some complaints from library patrons.
The changes were made, and the altered display and associated books were allowed to remain in place through the remainder of the month with a directive that future displays were not to be LGBT-specific.
Tucker’s argument for banning the displays is that they are seen as advocating for a controversial position that is not universally shared within the community. Allowing such a display would only serve to alienate some of the library’s patrons, he said, adding that he wants the library to be a neutral ground that is open to everyone.
“While on the clock, we do not advocate specific positions,” Tucker said in the library system’s August newsletter. “Doing so would contradict our goal of providing a place of public resources where all feel welcome.”
As Treasure was a part-time library employee in 2017, he said he didn’t have the confidence at the time to stand up and say something. That changed when he and other library employees took a different route in offering information on the library’s LGBTQ-themed reads this year and were shot down a second time.
In June the employees created a display themed around diversity in general that featured subjects on race, religion, sexual orientation and other topics.
“That was the kind of thing I support,” Tucker said. “It didn’t focus on one topic. It didn’t focus on anything controversial. I thought it was the perfect display.”
In addition to the diversity display, however, some library employees also chose to wear buttons that had “Ask me about LGBTQ reads” written on them. These were accompanied by brochures of related titles library patrons could look up if interested.
Treasure said he and the other employees didn’t feel that was “breaking the directive” about displays.
But when the complaints came yet again, they were directed to remove the buttons.
“It was at this point I decided I needed to speak up,” Treasure said, adding that he went to speak to the library system’s human resources department about the matter.
“I was discouraged by their response,” Treasure said, noting he was given a repeat of Tucker’s reasoning for banning the 2017 display. “I was most discouraged by the language used to justify taking down the display and buttons.”
The word he has issue with is “controversial” when used to describe the community of which he is a part.
When going to human resources didn’t garner the results Treasure had hoped for, he contacted the press.
‘You have made it controversial’
Mark Chambers, a former Springdale town councilman who describes himself as an openly gay man, attended Thursday night’s forum due to concerns raised over the library’s display ban. During the forum he stood and exchanged words of disagreement with Tucker over the ban.
“You have made it controversial,” Chambers said to Tucker. “You are advocating a side saying we don’t have a presence. … The reasoning and decisions you are using hurts me and it hurts my community. You have created this controversy.”
Tucker disagreed, and reiterated he strives to keep the library a safe a neutral ground for all, no matter their background or ideology.
Striving for ‘a neutral perspective’
“I would liked to have found more common ground,” Tucker told St. George News following the forum. “I strive to be accepting to all people and all perspectives, and the LGBTQ community is a part of that. I want them to feel included and a part of the library.”
Yet, while trying to be neutral and open to all sides, Tucker also said he’s had library patrons recently accuse him of pushing an agenda in favor of the LGBTQ community.
“It’s really not my intention to push an agenda,” he said. “I just like to maintain a neutral perspective. … I don’t want people to feel unwelcome in the library.”
For the time being, LGBTQ displays will not be allowed at Washington County libraries. The same is true to any subject that could be considered controversial, Tucker said. This is reason the library will not create displays related to potential divisive topics.
This ban does not extend to the literature related to these topics, Tucker said, and LGBTQ-related books the library carries aren’t going anywhere.
‘A step in the right direction’
“I feel the discussion was good,” said Stephen Lambert, of Equality Utah who organized Thursday night’s forum. “I think we need changes. I hope there are changes.”
Lambert noted that while Tucker is the library director, he also works under the county’s Library Board.
“I want the Library Board to know we’re here,” he said. “I hope they come to a conclusion that the LGBTQ community is not controversial.”
Treasure said he was glad the forum took place, as it helped get voices heard and keeps the conversation going.
“I think we were able to convey our concern which is the number one thing I was hoping for, and to start the conservation,” Treasure said. “I do think this is a step in the right direction.”
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