POST FALLS: Throughout 12 years as a youth librarian in northern Idaho, Denise Neujahr learn to and befriended youngsters of many backgrounds. Religious or atheist, homosexual or straight, all have been welcome till a November night in 2021, when about two dozen teenagers arriving on the Submit Falls library for a gathering of the “Rainbow Squad” encountered a commotion on the entrance.
Members of an area church waved indicators with photos of hellfire and used a bullhorn to shout Bible verses and accusations about sin and pedophile “groomers” within the library. Dad and mom needed to escort the kids inside that night time, and the library beefed up safety. However the subsequent month, police arrested a protester exterior the doorways who was carrying a knife and a loaded gun.
In Might, non secular conservatives received a majority on the library board and named as its chair a member who had referred to as the Rainbow Squad a “sex club.” Neujahr, who created the group as a program of crafts, snacks and dialog for LGBTQ youth and their mother and father, stated she was instructed the group’s funding was at risk. However she refused to disband it.
“They’re really good kids,” Neujahr stated. “It just makes me so sad that they have to go through all this hate. This is not what libraries stand for.”
As America’s libraries have develop into noisy and typically harmful new battlegrounds within the nation’s tradition wars, librarians like Neujahr and their allies have moved from the stacks to the entrance traces. Individuals who usually preside over hushed sanctuaries at the moment are battling teams that demand the mass elimination of books and search to manage library governance. Final yr, greater than 150 payments in 35 states aimed to limit entry to library supplies and to punish library staff who don’t comply.
“We’re no longer seeing a parent have a conversation with a teacher or librarian about a book their child is reading,” stated Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the director of the American Library Affiliation’s Workplace for Mental Freedom. “We’re seeing partisan groups demand the removal of books that they’re told are bad books, that they are not even reading, because they don’t meet the political or moral agenda.”
Activists say they’re defending youngsters from sexually express materials and exploitation, whereas conservative politicians search to harden the bans into coverage. Mission 2025, the Heritage Basis’s 900-page ideological blueprint for a possible second Donald Trump administration, declares in its opening pages that “pornography, manifested today in the omnipresent propagation of transgender ideology and sexualization of children,” must be stripped of First Modification safety and outlawed.
“The people who produce and distribute it should be imprisoned. Educators and public librarians who purvey it should be classed as registered sex offenders,” the doc says.
The battles are being waged in locations like Clinton, Tennessee, the place a reluctant library ally, the native sheriff, spoke out towards censorship. In Pella, Iowa, two ladies organized a profitable marketing campaign towards a proposal to power the city library beneath metropolis management. And in Idaho, after Neujahr acquired an award for her work with the Rainbow Squad, folks threatened her life and posted her members of the family’ private info on-line.

‘What Is Express Is Subjective’

Sheriff Russell Barker had an issue. Because the chief legislation enforcement officer for Anderson County within the mountains of jap Tennessee, he had dealt with narcotics, assault and different legal investigations — not the overview of youngsters’s books about intercourse and gender id.
However this previous yr, after residents discovered what they stated have been greater than a dozen pornographic titles within the county’s 4 libraries, native officers requested the sheriff to find out whether or not two of the focused titles violated Tennessee’s obscenity legislation. In that case, librarians, workers or board members — the sheriff instructed officers he did not know who — may be topic to arrest.
Each one of many books appeared on lists posted by BookLooks.org, a Florida-based group that critiques books for descriptions of intercourse, violence or different content material it deems unacceptable for youngsters. Its conclusions have develop into a useful resource for folks difficult books in public colleges and libraries. Caldwell-Stone calls BookLooks a part of “a well-coordinated, well-funded campaign.” Emily Maikisch, the Florida mum or dad who based BookLooks, stated it’s a volunteer group that accepts no exterior cash.
“Ultimately our ratings are our opinions,” she wrote in an e-mail. “We encourage folks using our material to make their own determination.”
The 2 books given to the sheriff for overview have been “Let’s Talk About It: A Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships and Being a Human” by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan, and “Gender Queer,” a 2019 graphic-novel-style memoir by Maia Kobabe that’s the most banned e book in the USA. The writer, who’s nonbinary, explores puberty and sexual id within the e book, which incorporates some drawings of nudity and sexual situations.
“These books were brought to the county commission, and we had an obligation to act,” a county commissioner, Denise Palmer, stated in a fee assembly final spring within the county seat, Clinton, a city of 10,000 about 15 miles from Knoxville. “I felt like that they may teeter on the law.”
Controversy was not new to Clinton, the positioning of the primary highschool within the South to be built-in by court docket order, in 1956, in compliance with the Supreme Court docket’s determination two years earlier in Brown v. Board of Schooling. In 1958, as much as 100 sticks of dynamite planted in the highschool decreased it to rubble. Nobody was injured. Nobody was ever arrested.
Whereas Anderson County continues to be principally white, residents say it’s completely different now, with liberal transplants attracted by a rising tech sector encompassing the previous Manhattan Mission website of Oak Ridge. However change has once more introduced backlash, together with from some Christian conservatives.
In late March, greater than 250 folks packed the Clinton Neighborhood Heart for a charged public assembly, recorded on video. It occurred to be on the identical day that three youngsters and three adults died in a mass capturing on the Covenant College in Nashville, Tennessee. Police stated the shooter recognized as transgender. Some who spoke on the assembly have been additional upset by the tragedy.
“We just had a young man who has fooled himself to believing he was a woman kill six people and himself was killed today,” Jill Brown, a county resident, stated when she got here to the microphone. “If that is not a testimony of how messed up this whole transgender strategy is, agenda is, then I don’t know what is.”
Jack Mansfield, a retired Oak Ridge police officer, shook his finger in fury at 4 county librarians on the entrance of the room. “You librarians, you’re providing this material; you can be arrested too!” he shouted. (Youngsters youthful than 11 can not go to Anderson County libraries with out an grownup, and people youthful than 18 want parental permission to get a library card.)
Miria Webb, the Clinton library director, felt beneath siege. “I’ve served this community for more than a decade, and I was born and raised in East Tennessee,” she stated in an interview. “Those words hurt. They kind of strike to your core.”
Three weeks later, the county commissioners met to listen to Barker’s findings. Tommy Mariner, a retired Navy pilot and former schoolteacher who serves on the library board, spoke first.
“What is happening today, the threats being made toward people’s liberty, toward people’s jobs, is wrong,” he stated. “We saw in 1958 how simmering hatreds within the community blew up the high school across the street. This is not something that might just happen here. This is something that has happened here.”
Then it was Barker’s flip. He instructed the commissioners that he deliberate to observe library coverage and file a request that the library limit youngsters’s entry to the 2 books he had reviewed. He stated that a few of their content material personally offended him, however neither violated state or federal legislation.
“For me, again, this is about freedom in the United States,” he added. “My caution would be, if we start removing those books, we could start an avalanche of everyone questioning anything that they disagree with. And we get into some censorship issues that would be really outside the bounds of what our country is about.”
A county commissioner, Anthony Allen, disagreed. “When we try to segregate books that are so explicit that we want them segregated, they should not be in the library,” he instructed the sheriff. “Can you address that?”
“That’s a fair argument,” the sheriff replied. However, he stated, “what is explicit is subjective,” and “it is not government’s call to decide.”
Afterward, the library board moved the 2 books that offended the sheriff behind the circulation desk, dismaying Webb in addition to conservatives who wished the books out of the library solely. In a latest interview, Webb stated the library system nonetheless receives a number of challenges a month, however most are turned away by a library overview committee. The library system has additionally fended off challenges to its acquisition plans, price range and independence.
“So far, we’re doing OK,” and the library has extra supporters than detractors, Webb stated.
The battle blew up, she famous, a number of months after she got here out as a lesbian. She typically wonders: Was it about books or folks?
“I try to tell myself that people are afraid of change,” she stated. “Because part of me is afraid it’s hate, and that is the part of me that wants to leave here.”

A Two-Yr Battle Over a Guide

The controversy in Pella, Iowa, started in the summertime of 2021 when a youth figuring out as male arrived on the aquatic middle in trunks and a small overlaying over his torso, described as a chest binder by some and Band-Aids by others. A rumor unfold that the teenager was swimming topless round youngsters, stirring native alarm and indignant posts to a Fb web page.
Two ladies surprised by the vitriol stepped in.
Anne Petrie, a retired music professor at Central Faculty in Pella, and her neighbor Anne McCullough Kelly, an area psychological well being counselor, fashioned a Fb group referred to as “Coalition for an Inclusive Pella” as a countermessage. The 2 ladies have been closely outnumbered at Metropolis Council conferences, together with one by which Michael Shover, the pastor of Christ the Redeemer Church in Pella, stated that “the corrupting effects of sexual immorality are now descending upon our town.”
The fracas spawned a brand new group, Shield My Innocence, which in late 2021 started objecting to about 100 books from the municipal public library that it stated contained pornographic and sexually express content material, together with “Gender Queer.” In Pella, the e book is shelved within the library’s grownup part.
In 2022, the library board denied Shield My Innocence’s request to take away “Gender Queer” from the grownup part and make it accessible provided that patrons requested for it. The group complained to the Metropolis Council, then turned to accumulating signatures for a 2023 poll referendum to position the library beneath the management of the Metropolis Council. That prompted Petrie and McCullough Kelly to create Vote NO to Save Our Library, a political motion committee, with the assistance of EveryLibrary, a nationwide advocacy group that fights censorship.
Heading into the Nov. 7 election, the competing teams printed dueling opinion columns in native papers. Either side accused the opposite of pursuing a political agenda and of affect by exterior pursuits. Vote NO spent a number of thousand {dollars} on yard indicators, unsolicited mail, and on-line and newspaper commercials. It drew loads of insults on social media; “my favorite was ‘Satanist, pervert, peddler of porn,'” McCullough Kelly stated. Shield My Innocence urged residents to “vote for the virtuous.”
On Nov. 7, the vote to strip the Pella Public Library of its independence was 1,954 in favor, and a couple of,041 towards. Simply 87 voters defeated the decision, ending a two-year battle over a e book.
“Would I have liked the margin to be a little bigger? Yeah,” Petrie stated. “But I was really, really gratified that the people of Pella said, ‘No, we don’t need this.'”

‘I Simply Need Them to Get By way of Excessive College’

For her work on behalf of the Rainbow Squad, final March, Neujahr received the American Library Affiliation’s Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Confronted with Adversity. The prize included a visit to Chicago to obtain a $10,000 prize from Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, writer of the favored “A Series of Unfortunate Events” youngsters’s books.
The award, publicized within the native media, made Neujahr a goal. The Idaho Tribune, an outlet that describes itself as “conservative journalism that supports and defends the Christian values that Idaho loves and cherishes,” referred to as the prize a “groomer award.”
Private contacts for Neujahr’s members of the family appeared on web sites attacking her. One on-line commenter threatened “to gut me like a fish,” she recalled. She supplied to purchase a safety system for her in-laws.
In Might, after two non secular conservatives who had sought to take away books from the libraries received seats on the library board, its members started overhauling the library’s insurance policies on collections. A draft, considered by The New York Instances, seeks to ban supplies containing “any description, exhibition, presentation or representation, in whatever form, of nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement or sadomasochistic abuse,” together with “buttocks with less than a fully opaque covering.” The language echoes the BookLooks ranking system.
In January, the brand new library chair, Rachelle Ottosen, traveled to Boise to testify in favor of a proposed state invoice that will empower mother and father to gather $250 in damages from a faculty or public library if their little one good points entry to supplies “harmful to minors.” However extra folks testified towards the invoice, and a earlier model of it was vetoed by the governor final yr. Ottosen declined to be interviewed or to reply emailed questions.
Neujahr left the Neighborhood Library Community in Idaho in autumn and now leads youth companies for the library system in Spokane, Washington, a half-hour drive away. The job is a promotion, however she acknowledges her disappointment with Ottosen, who made clear that the Rainbow Squad was now not welcome on the library. She nonetheless runs the group, nevertheless it now meets at Calvary Lutheran Church in Submit Falls. The congregation invited the kids to fulfill there and has given them snacks and artwork provides.
“This is a rough time for any teenager to grow up and experience life, no matter what their identity is,” Neujahr stated. “I just want them to get through high school and know that things will be better.
“As soon as they will vote, they will make a distinction,” she added. “I am excited to see that sort of world.”