December 2, 2021

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Public librarians in Wyoming might face obscenity charges over LGBTQ books

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The Campbell County Public Library in Cheyenne, Wyoming, is under fire from two residents in the county, Hugh and Susan Bunnett, who filed a report on Sept. 29 detailing allegations about the “obscene” material. According to the Blade, Damsky’s office declined to comment on the ongoing situation but confirmed the report has been received and is being reviewed. 

As for the librarians, they’re not sure what’s coming next. Because they haven’t been contacted by investigators, they’re not entirely sure what to do. According to the executive director of the library, Terri Lesley, they’re abiding by their own internal review policies for books they’ve received complaints about. Sometimes after a book is reviewed, for example, it’s moved to a different age category—teen instead of middle-grade, for example—or included on different lists, like teen instead of children’s. Sometimes it stays where it originally was. 

In speaking to the Associated Press, Lesley said the library has received 35 complaints about 18 books. Lesley described the number as “unexpected” and unusual for a public library. 

“We are trying to be the force of reason,” she added. “Trying to work through these things using the policy we have in place — review these books and do our due diligence.”

Books apparently include This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson, How Do You Make a Baby by Anna Fiske, Doing It by Hannah Witton, and Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy by Andrew P. Smiler, among others. That’s according, mind you, to a local pastor, Susan Sisti, who is upset about those books, as well as others, being in the library. Because the librarians haven’t been contacted by investigators yet, they aren’t sure which books are actually in question. 

Obviously, which books are appropriate for what reader varies greatly. People have different comfort and maturity levels, and that’s fine. But dropping labels like “pornography” or “obscenity” are huge—and they’re also often implicit in suggesting LGBTQ+ material that, if it focused on cisgender, heterosexual people, would be just fine.

In speaking to The Daily Beast about the situation, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, who heads the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, explained that all of the books in question are available both in bookstores and Amazon. She stressed that none of the books meet the legal definition of child pornography or obscenity. 

“We’re just deeply concerned about this effort to prosecute librarians and educators for providing constitutionally protected mainstream materials,” she told the outlet in reference to orchestrated attacks on books and libraries.

If you’re wondering if this story feels all too familiar—community members outraged over a public library in Wyoming that dares to be remotely inclusive—that’s probably because it’s not the first time we’ve written about it here at Daily Kos. This is the very same library that had to cancel a magic show for kids because of threats against both the performer and the library staff. Why the threats? Though it wasn’t part of her show, the magician is an openly trans woman—and conservatives, apparently, refused to be the least bit gracious or normal about it.

Magician Mikayla Oz, of Iowa, said at the time she received a phone call saying that if she came to the community, there would be “issues.” In an email, someone told her she wasn’t “f—king welcome.” For safety reasons, and to avoid upsetting or stressing out the children in the case of possible issue or protest, they canceled the event. Still, people have been curious as to how there was a hulabaloo about the event to begin with, given that the library only did its usual (relatively small) publicity for the event, it didn’t touch on LGBTQ+ issues at all, and the library staff itself didn’t even realize Oz was trans when they booked her. 

Anti-LGBTQ+ people are, and always have been, deeply organized, motivated, and dedicated to their cause. Unfortunately, that cause hinges on exclusion, discrimination, and pushing people back into the closet. It’s not been about just books, or magic shows, or pronouns. It’s always been about the right to exist. 



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