The Two Main Factions in the Corners: “Pride” Month

It’s “Pride” month, when many public libraries all over the country put out displays or reading/viewing lists that feature books or other works about or by gay, transgender and lesbian authors, subjects and characters. In my experience, the general political/social receptivity of a community to gayness as an idea and/or practice is reflected in how “rainbow” a library chooses to get with its approach to “Pride.” In very gay-friendly communities, public libraries have been known to go so far as to have library-sponsored “Pride” parades around their parking lots, or even to invite so-called “Drag Queens” to come and read to children. In deeply religious communities, public libraries may forgo any mention of “Pride” month at all.

Public libraries do well to assess their messaging in light of the Gebietsgeist around them. This is not to say that public libraries should not have the most comprehensive and balanced collections possible/affordable because of what select locals might think, but merely that the non-mission-centric and more negotiable practices of a public library–displays, programs, art, institutional statements–would best NOT be such that they would put the library in an adversarial position versus the taxpayers/voters who support the library. In other words, librarians–and they are out there–who see it as their mission to “evolve” and “mentor” their communities towards the more progressive future the most liberal librarians in the most liberal towns long for at a faster rate than the average taxpayer is ready for are asking for unproductive conflict. There are many librarians too self-righteous and frankly ungrateful to accept this, and I posit that those librarians should be held largely responsible if and when public librarians become less trusted and lose public regard in coming years.

My library is located in a more conservative-than-average suburb of a more liberal-than-average mid-sized city. As such, my library gets a pretty perfectly split mixture of feedback on anything we do that even approaches unsettled controversy, and we message accordingly. We do have “Pride” displays and they are upbeat and eye-catching, but we don’t use them as a cudgel to beat benighted rubes over the head. Our displays aren’t about PEDAGOGY or MENTORSHIP, meaning that we aren’t trying to convince the ignorant, unconvinced or resistant. Our displays are meant to be a wink and a “hey there” to the GLBT, etc. community/families who pay their taxes and use the library. I know for a fact there ARE libraries and librarians who think rube-conversion on gay acceptance IS what “Pride” month should be about, but I disagree with them. In my mind, our displays are saying “Hey, LGBTQ+ population, whoever y’all are. How y’all doin’? Y’all are taxpayers, too, and we like y’all. Come on in and look around,” rather than “ACCEPT GAYNESS OR GET OUT, HATER!”

All of that said, there are two factions of sometimes-audible Fanatics that break out when they see “Pride” displays. First, you have very religious people for whom ANY mention of gays, lesbians, transgendered people, etc. is considered evidence of the further slide of society into degeneracy and Godlessness. Gayness in their minds is an existential threat to their families and our society and an affront to God. The only good “Pride” display for these people is the one that doesn’t exist. In their minds, gays, lesbians, trans people, etc. are so disordered and disgusting that a public library recognizing their existence as anything but tragic and sordid is a tacit promotion of “The Gay Agenda” or “The Gay Lifestyle” to children. It’s tough to appease these people when they get angry and start their brand of competitive outrage. “NGNW” I call this crowd: “No gay, no way.”

The next type of Fanatic are those who, in precise opposition to the first type, think that gays, lesbians, etc. should be held up as social heroes, boldly braving threat after threat and indignity after indignity in a crushingly homophobic and hateful world. These are the people who take it as a personal insult if a library’s event invitations say “moms and dads” instead of “parents” or something. “Why don’t any of your Facebook graphics show two men or two women accompanying a child?!” they might ask, implying that a library is purposely excluding couples who “look like us.” For these people, “Pride” displays that aren’t sufficiently supportive or don’t have JUST the right/latest version of the rainbow flag in the sufficient size with the latest stripe are “othering” whoever the new stripe is meant to represent. “TGTBs” I call these: “The Gayer, the Better.”

“Here It Is” versus “Ain’t It Great”

And, somewhere in the No Person’s Land (note: this phrase is purposely ironic) between the lines of the Eternal Culture War are librarians like me and the library at which I work. Yes, we have attractive “Pride” displays for children, teens and adults, displayed in different parts of the building in proximity to the sections where the concomitant collections are housed. No, we do not have miniature “Pride” parades through our parking lot or “drag camp” for adolescents. When it comes to our message on any controversial questions of “identity,” we maintain a “here it is” stance, akin to “we see you,” rather than an “ain’t it great!” stance. “Pride” and open gayness and debated questions of gender and its changeability are all social and political realities in 2022. To pretend otherwise would be odd, like when people tell me our library shouldn’t put up a tree around Christmas. To pretend that Christmas isn’t happening, to make the library a “Christmas-free” zone would be weird and would feel PURPOSEFUL, like a sulky child spiting the world. So a NEUTRAL library does best to handle “Pride” very much like Christmas–to recognize the reality of Christmas while understanding that the public library cannot be a religious/Christian institution. A library can recognize the reality of “Pride” without being a gay institution.

The differences are subtle, which makes them difficult to grasp for Fanatics, for whom subtlety–like neutrality–is always suspect (if they can understand it at all). Any imperfections in application are evidence of conspiracy or spite. To them, “truth” and “right” are always bright and flashing neon signs that always say exactly what they want them to. To their frustration, an ethical, neutral library cannot make them perfectly happy. Nor should it try.


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