Queering The Public Library
A friend in my old Philadelphia neighborhood sent in this snapshot advertising an event at the local branch library. Turns out that “30 Days Of Gay” is a thing happening in all the city’s public libraries. From the library website:
The Free Library is dedicated to inclusivity and diversity, with neighborhood libraries serving as welcoming and safe spaces for all Philadelphians. We offer information on bullying, safety, and coming out; books and resources for parents and siblings; biographies of important LGBTQIA+ figures in the community; and award-winning LGBTQIA+ fiction. In addition, the Independence Library’s Barbara Gittings Gay & Lesbian Collection is the largest dedicated LGBTQ public library collection east of the San Francisco Public Library.
OK. Here’s another Pride month event you might wish to go to. At the public library:
Wed, June 28, 2017 5:30 p.m.
Philbrick Hall at Parkway Central Library
June is LGBT Pride Month! To celebrate, join us for an evening of drag performances! Doors open at 5:30pm. The show is from 6:00pm-8:00pm. Teens! Want to perform? Contact [email protected] to sign up. This program is made possible by grants from the Philadelphia City Institute Board of Managers, Independence Foundation, and The Christopher Ludwick Foundation.
What on earth is a public library doing staging a drag show, including one for teenagers? The Free Library (the name of the city’s public library system) welcomes all Philadelphians, except parents and others who would rather not have to deal with drag queens in the library, or who would rather just go to the library without being propagandized for a social movement.
Here’s an article in a professional library online journal by a Free Library official who advises colleagues nationwide how to queer their libraries. Excerpts:
Matching kids and books in a gender neutral way is a way to serve everyone better, as a default. Many of the children you serve might be trans or queer. Some of them could realize it already and perhaps even be ready to come out, and very likely many more are somewhere in a long process of self-identification, understanding, and acceptance. And even children who will end up being straight deserve a gender-neutral approach; some little boys are going to grow up and have long hair and paint their fingernails (and be straight!). Actively seeking out books with illustrations, stories, and themes that celebrate individuality and dignity in diversity, including books that do not rely on rigid gender roles, primes librarians to improve their services to kids of different sizes, abilities, ethnicities, classes, and other groups who are not defined by our culture’s version of “normal.” You probably already have these three titles in your collection that do just that: Helen Lester’s Tacky the Penguin, Leo Lionni’s A Color of His Own, and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. These improved services will also positively affect the adults in their lives.
Libraries and librarians will experience pushback when they explicitly welcome trans and genderqueer people using these strategies. Laws in several states do or would prevent trans patrons from using their bathrooms of choice. Be ready with policies—both personnel policies and public policies—that explicitly let trans and genderqueer people use the restroom facilities they find most appropriate, in the same way you might use a collection development policy to answer a complaint about a book.
In the Chestnut Hill branch library, a beautiful, homey neighborhood space, the bathrooms are now ungendered. The bathrooms there are not welcoming and safe spaces for children and their parents who are uncomfortable sharing intimate space with people of the opposite sex. But then again, those crazy bigots don’t count.
I eagerly await the inevitable Havel’s Greengrocer Moment, when people get sick and tired of having cultural progressivism shoved down their throats, and having the ordinary things of life — like public libraries — turned into propaganda mills by cultural revolutionaries. Let libraries be libraries, for pity’s sake! Does every public space have to be turned into a culture-war battlefield by progressives?
UPDATE: “Why are you social conservatives so obsessed about sex and homosexuality?” ask the people who stage drag queen children’s story hour at the public library.