MI town library defunded over LGBTQ+ books sparked by ‘Gender Queer’

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DETROIT – A library in Michigan will close after voters rejected its funding for the second time because library staff refused to remove LGBTQ books.

A tax levy to fund the Patmos Library for the next 10 years failed in Jamestown Charter Township’s August primary, meaning it lost 84% of its funding for operations. The measure appeared on Tuesday’s midterms ballot again in hopes that, with more residents aware of the issue, it would pass.

It failed, again. Just 5,500 residents out of around 10,000 in the township just southwest of Grand Rapids voted on the millage, and 55.8% voted “no.” Without taxpayer funds, the library will close. Exactly when that will happen is not yet known.

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Book banning and education reform became major talking points for Michigan Republican candidates on the campaign trail, feeding into the growing national movement. PEN America published a report in September on banned books across the country that found that 41% of those books contain LGBTQ themes and 40% contain prominent characters of color.

What LGBTQ book sparked calls to defund the library?

The book that sparked the calls to remove LGBTQ books from the shelves at Patmos is one of the most banned books in the country, “Gender Queer: A Memoir.” Patmos Library refused to ban the book but did remove it from its spot in the adult section and placed it behind the counter. Interested readers would have to specifically ask for it.

The book cover of "Gender Queer: A Memoir.'

Residents also wanted to ban “Kiss Number 8″ and “Spinning,” both graphic novels that depict girls realizing they want to kiss other girls. Neither contains nudity.

Jamestown Township resident Donna Rotman, an opponent of the library’s books, which she describes as “graphic sexual dialogue and narratives,” said at an Aug. 8 board meeting that “tax dollars should never be spent (on) grooming children.” 

“No child has an innate sense of being genderqueer or gender fluid. It is manipulative, destructive and wrong.” 

The Patmos Library in Jamestown Township, south of Hudsonville, is in danger of closing following Tuesday’s failed library millage renewal.

How long can the library stay open without funds?

A GoFundMe for the library raised about $265,000, with the help of author Nora Roberts, but it won’t be enough to sustain it long-term, the Patmos Library Board said in a plea to voters released just before the election.

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“It means a lot that people are standing with this library and our community,” the Patmos Library Board said in a plea to voters released just before the election. “The financial support for the library is incredible and will help us weather the immediate crisis. However, we know very clearly that what this library needs to remain open over the long term is to pass the 10-year levy renewal in November. We cannot run the Patmos Public Library for the next decade without stable taxpayer support. … If the levy fails, we will put these donations to work in the best way we can for as long as we can.”

Ottawa County residents wait for a library board meeting to start at Jamestown Township's Patmos Library Monday, Aug. 8, 2022.

What have residents said about losing the town’s only library?

Connor Cook, a 26-year-old gay man who grew up in Jamestown and now attends medical school at Wayne State University, said he was shocked when he found out it failed. Losing access to the township’s only library will have a significant impact on the community, he said, especially because many families homeschool their children and many of them learn how to read at libraries.

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“I honestly assumed it was gonna pass because I’ve been home twice since the primary and just talking with neighbors, most of them are kind of shocked that it happened to begin with,” he said. “Not that they’re any more affirming of (LGBTQ) people or anything, they do just like the concept of having a library.”

Cook grew up working in the Patmos Library and spending time with the librarians; it was his safe space in a very religious and conservative town. He said he’s worried about the LGBTQ kids who still live in the township and are seeing their community’s response to who they are.

The exterior of the Patmos Library Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, in Jamestown Township. The future of the library is uncertain after the failure of the renewal of a property tax millage to fund the library after a campaign. The millage was voted down after a small conservative group campaigned against the millage after the library rejected removing LGBTQ materials from its shelves.

“I imagine it feels very isolating. I remember how scared I felt — I definitely didn’t have any friends who knew I was gay or who I knew were gay until college — so the isolation must be pretty intense,” Cook said.  “No one wins in this and the people who lose first are our kids.”

“We’re not going anywhere, so I just hope your kids have a library.”

Contact Emma Stein: estein@freepress.com.

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