Spanish Fort, Alabama. February 25, 2022 -- A Spanish Fort resident has challenged a children's book at the Spanish Fort Public Library because the book features characters who are a same-sex couple. The challenge was an item on the agenda at the Spanish Fort Library Board Meeting on Monday, February 21, 2022 which I attended. When the Board (which is comprised of the Spanish Fort City Council) reached that point in the agenda, they left the room for an executive session, spent 15 minutes behind closed doors and returned to the pubic session. When they returned, they never mentioned the challenge again.
I have sent email correspondence to the entire Board several times this week, and have not had my questions addressed. Below is a copy of my correspondence. If you would like to lend a voice, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will take any emails received with me to the City Council meeting on Monday, March 7 at 6:00 pm to deliver to the Board.
My email and letter to the Board on Tuesday, February 22, 2022:
Dear Council Members,
I was in attendance yesterday at the board meeting for the Spanish Fort Public Library. The library serves the public, and I am a member of the community. My children have volunteered there during summers in high school, and one of my sons even helped paint the mural on the wall. I have volunteered to read my own children's book to local children and at one time, participated in the writer's group there. As someone who lives and has raised five children in the area, I am invested in the quality of services our town offers.
Yesterday, there was an item on the agenda about a book challenge that was discussed in a closed executive session and then not addressed again in the public forum. I have several questions about this.
1. Why was this discussed behind closed doors with no follow-up in the public forum?
2. What is being done in response to this book challenge?
3. Will this be addressed publicly at a time in the future?
4. Will the public be allowed input on the response to this book challenge?
I would appreciate a prompt response as I believe the longer this lingers and is unresolved, the bigger the issue becomes. Below is my response to this book being challenged. I believe the prudent and least disruptive response would be to inform the complainant that he/she is free to chose what he/she would like to read but is not free to make that decision for others. Removing a book from the library because you disagree with it or would like to pretend certain people do not exist would have wide ramifications. I urge you to do the right thing for ALL of your community members, not a select few. Please respond to the questions above promptly.
My letter is copied below and attached to this email as well.
9425 Sweet Gum Court
Spanish Fort, Al 36527
Spanish Fort Library Council
7361 Spanish Fort Blvd
Spanish Fort, AL 36527
February 21, 2022
Dear Council Members:
I have been a member of the Spanish Fort community for the last ten years. We have raised our five children here, and two of my sons spent time during their summers in high school volunteering here. One of my sons even helped paint the mural that is on the wall. There are things I love about living here and things I struggle with. One of the biggest struggles I and my family have faced is the unwillingness of many members of our community to embrace those who are different from themselves.
I understand that someone has complained about a book in the children’s collection because it depicts a story about chickens owned by a couple who happens to be same sex. I have read the book in its entirety, and if a woman were substituted for one of the men, it would be like any other children’s book. There is nothing on it’s face that is inappropriate for anyone of any age. The issue lies wholly in the fact that there are two men in a normal, same sex relationship.
The problem with this complaint, while obvious to me and anyone who believes that all people deserve love, respect and representation, is not obvious to those who see the world through their own myopic and bigoted lenses and to those who feel that they have the right to force those views on everyone around them.
It is my strong view that if someone does not want to read a book depicting a same sex couple, then they should choose not to read it. But to deny my family the opportunity to read a book that represents someone like my son is to deny him the experience of seeing himself as a normal child who deserves love, who deserves storybooks that depict who he is and aspires to be and to believe that there is a place in the world for him. This is a form of cruelty that contributes to children feeling that they are not worthy, are not normal and are not loved. This kind of cruelty, which is rampant in our community, our churches and our schools should not be allowed in the public library which sets out to provide quality materials for all people.
The importance of representation in books like Mr. Watson’s Chickens cannot be overstated. It impacts children’s beliefs in themselves, the acceptance they feel in the community and the hope they have for the future. The depression and suicide rates for children in the LGBTQ community are staggering. Consider these statistics from a 2021 national survey conducted by the Trevor Project. And while reviewing, I challenge you to imagine your child in this group:
Additionally, a bigger issue is that, in cases like this, the only people sexualizing anything about this story or about the men depicted in the story are the adults reading the story. Elementary school-aged children are not sexualized beings. They take their cues from the adults. So, if the adults are upset, the children are taught to view this depiction as something that should be upsetting. Nothing has made me more frustrated than people who would connote this kind of sexualized conversation about my child when he was too young to understand it fully himself. No adult has the right to sexualize anyone’s child at a young age. Why does this respect seem to be abandoned for the LGBTQ community? They go through the same sexual maturation as any other child, and they deserve the right to mature without an adult forcing something upon them that they have not claimed.
Lastly, the world is a diverse and beautiful place filled with diverse and beautiful people. That is the lesson any child should be afforded. An individual and/or a community cannot close their eyes and pretend like those who are different from them do not exist. They should not be allowed to hide beautiful human beings in a corner or remove them entirely from participating in the same activities as anyone else – including reading books that represent them in their public libraries.
I implore you to start from a place of love and empathy. Imagine how your children would feel if they never saw someone who looked like them depicted in stories. We are not called in life merely to be tolerant of others, but to embrace them. That is how my husband and I have raised our five children, and we continue to fight each and every day to educate those who would marginalize anyone else.
Response from Mary Brabner (Councilperson from District 5) received 2/23/22 via email:
I have not responded because I don’t know what to say
We will be discussing this further before making a public comment
I also want to hear all sides of the issue and have time to think it through before making a decision
A knee jerk reaction is not what this matter needs
Thank you for reaching out but please give us time to formulate a decision
Sent from my iPhone
My Response to Ms. Brabner sent 2/23/22
I am concerned that you do not have a formal process for evaluating a challenged book to see if there is a violation of library policy. I would like to see the policy to understand if there is a process defined in it for this action. In this case, the right thing to do should be very clear. One person's beliefs cannot be forced on another's. The library has a stringent vetting process, and after researching this book, I know it has been academically and peer-reviewed. As a public library, it would be inappropriate to serve only a select group of individuals. Free speech is one of the core values of our country, and to thwart that by censoring and/or banning a book would be an affront to that ideal.
In addition, prolonging this situation is the only thing that will create more drama and conflict. As a board, you can show a strong backbone if you nip it in the bud by rejecting the challenge and leaving the book on the shelves.
If there is no defined process by which to evaluate a challenged book, I would be interested in participating in the process of creating one.
There is absolutely no reason to ban this book or in any other way limit it's access. Do the right thing. What is the deadline to respond to the complaint? And when will you give the public the opportunity to provide public input?
I would appreciate an answer as to why this is being addressed behind closed doors in addition to my other questions in my first email.
Response from City Attorney David Connor 2/24/22
Dear Mrs. Denham:
I am writing this e-mail in response to your request for information regarding the Reconsideration of Materials/Programs. As you know, we have received a request for reconsideration or review of the book entitled “Mr. Watson’s Chickens”, written by Jarrett Dapier. This item was placed on the Library Board’s agenda for review, and as you correctly noted, the Library Board went into Executive Session for some discussion. After the Executive Session, based on the limited amount of time available, no action was taken on this matter. It was determined that we would need additional time to review and discuss this matter publicly, and it was an oversight that we did not make an announcement regarding this matter. The Library Board has requested that we gather certain information, and the Library Board will hold a special work session and meeting to discuss this matter. The meeting will be a public meeting, and you are invited to attend.
I assure you that the Library Board appreciates the importance of this matter and will engage in a deliberative process in order to make the appropriate decision in this matter. Thank you for your interest in this matter, and we look forward to seeing you at the meeting.
David J. Conner
Blackburn & Conner, P.C.
P. O. Box 458
Bay Minette, Alabama 36507
My Response to David Connor 2/24/22
Thank you for your response. When are where will this meeting take place? Also, please forward me a copy of the library policy as it relates to challenged books. When is the deadline to resolve this matter?
I have not received the library policy regarding book challenges. I have not received any other communications. I have not been made aware of the process moving forward or of a date and time for the work session.
Again, please send your comments to me at email@example.com. I will post here to update if we get a date and time of a public work session so that others may come to offer input.
Onward and Embracing,
Author, Relationship Expert, Humorist, Advocate of Finding Your Voice
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