By Adriana Clark
It all started with a Pride display in June. Every month, the staff at the Camp Verde Community Library puts together a display of library books and media highlighting a particular theme. The display gathers materials from all areas of the library, including adult fiction and nonfiction, teen fiction and nonfiction, and audio-visual materials. The June theme was “Read with Pride” and featured books by and about the LGBTQ community.
Unreasonable Concerns over LGBTQ Literature
A group of “concerned parents” created a Facebook group and a petition on change.org, both called “Protect Camp Verde’s Children.” The petition was removed for violating Change.org’s community guidelines, but for several weeks, the Facebook group remained active and public. The group’s main objective is to move all books containing any mention of LGTBQ activity to a restricted section that minors cannot visit without a parent’s permission. After the petition was taken down, the group drafted a proposed ordinance and presented it to Camp Verde City Council. There have also been calls to have the library staff fired.
The Facebook group currently has 305 members. For about two weeks before the group went private, I was able to see all their posts and discussions. The members paradoxically insist that they are not opposed to the LGBTQ community—just children’s access to “pornographic” material—but they continually spout rhetoric accusing LGBTQ people of pushing their “agenda” on children and preying on the youth. It’s worth noting that child abuse is about power and control, and members of the LGBTQ community are no more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual people.
As an example of the group’s unreasonable concerns, one of the books the group took issue with is The Black Flamingo by Daniel Atta, a young adult novella about a gay Black college student who joins a drag performance group. I read the book a few years ago and found it to be incredibly sweet and touching. The passage that the group both posted to their page and read aloud at a Town Council meeting was not overtly sexual or graphic by any means. It described the main character kissing another man and wondering if he was about to lose his virginity. That’s it.
Religious Agenda of Book-Banners Exposed at Meetings
I attended the Camp Verde Town Council meeting on August 16 to get a feel of the community’s attitude toward the library. I was pleasantly surprised to see that six people spoke in support of equality at the library, while only one person spoke against it, although that one person used homophobic and religious rhetoric to argue that the library was exposing children to dangerous things.
On August 23, the Town Council had a special meeting just to discuss the library. You can listen to an audio recording of the meeting here. This meeting was a very different story from the one on August 16. It started with the library director Kathy Hellman, explaining the procedures the library uses to select books, shelve them, and create displays. She also discussed the library’s commitment to the Freedom to Read, which opposes banning, censoring, or labeling “controversial” books or authors. She explained that the responsibility for library materials selected by minors and adolescents resides with their parents or legal guardians, and that patrons may submit a request for reconsideration of library materials.
After her presentation, 33 people spoke in favor of the proposed book restricting ordinance, while only 21 people spoke in support of the library. The 33 “concerned citizens” claimed that they wanted to protect their children from losing their innocence to pornographic materials. One man called for the librarians to be arrested and was met with cheers. Another woman said that no “sinful” material should be available. When the library’s supporters spoke, the anti-library group heckled and jeered at them, despite warnings from the Council to be respectful.
The library’s supporters pointed out that librarians cannot read every single book and decide what is appropriate for the entire community. Multiple people also noted that the group represented a small but vocal minority that has been trying to impose their ideology to purge libraries throughout the country. Some pointed out that any teenager with a cell phone or friends is going to find and view sexually explicit material if they want to. One man identified himself as a Christian, and pointed out that the bible itself contains many arguably inappropriate and sexual stories.
Town Council and Library not Bending to Hate
The meeting lasted over four hours. Town Council did not take any action. Former interim Town Manager Barbara Goodrich has made a statement that the Town is committed to free speech and community diversity, and that the Town will not tolerate threats to its employees. With the “Protect Camp Verde’s Children” Facebook group on private, the anti-LGBTQ group’s next move is unclear. (They have repeatedly denied my requests to join).
This isn’t an isolated incident in one small town in Arizona. Attempts to remove LGBTQ books from libraries have been made all over the country. The Washington Post found that 42% of all book challenges filed in the 2021-2022 school year featured LGBTQ characters or themes, but a small number of people were responsible for most of the book challenges. A study by PEN America found that a growing number of educational intimidation bills aim to restrict LGBTQ representation in schools and libraries.
Book bans and laws like the ordinance proposed in Camp Verde attempt to internalize shame in LGBTQ youth and make it difficult for them to find resources and support that they may not have at home or among their friends. This movement also sends a clear message to all LGBTQ members of the community that they are not welcome and should be punished for existing. And it is of course an example of far-right religious groups trying to force their own views on gender and sexuality upon an entire town.
How to Take Action
If you or someone you know lives in the Camp Verde area, consider attending a town council meeting and expressing support for the library and for the LGBTQ community. The meetings can be attended in-person or over Zoom, and the public meetings calendar can be found here. You can also find email addresses for the Town Council members here. Even if you do not live in the area, see what kind of support your own local library has. If there is an opening on your local library board, apply for it. The freedom to read diverse material is a crucial part of education and essential to democracy. Our public libraries should not be held hostage by bigots disguised as concerned parents. Let them mind their own children, not everyone else’s.
Adriana Clark is a recent law school graduate and legal fellow with Secular AZ.