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Community rallies & raises over $133K for library that got defunded over LGBTQ books

Patmos Library
Patmos Library Photo: Google Maps

A library that lost most of its funding in a ballot measure earlier this month because it refused to remove LGBTQ books has managed to raise over $100,000.

Voters in Jameson Township, Michigan voted earlier this month to end the property tax that funds the local Patmos Library, gutting its $245,000 yearly budget. The move came after months of conflict between extremist residents who wanted the library to remove books with references to same-sex love and the library, which refused to do so.

A group called Jamestown Conservatives started to campaign against the library around Memorial Day, saying that its Pride Month display “promoted the LGBTQ ideology.”

“Pray that we can make changes and make the Patmos Library a safe and neutral place for our children,” one of the group’s flyers said.

“50% Millage INCREASE to GROOM our kids? Vote NO on Library!” one sign that was directly across the street from the library said, using the word “millage” to refer to the property tax, in the days leading up to the vote.

Without any funding, the Patmos Library was expected to deplete its reserves and run out of money next year. But two days after the vote, resident Jesse Dillman, set up a GoFundMe for the library that has generated $133,332 so far.

“I am very passionate about this, and I have people that are behind me to do this,” the father of two told NBC News. “I think I have to do it now, because the iron is hot. If this is going to happen, it’s going to happen now.”

Donors cited the need for LGBTQ books in libraries and their support for libraries in general in the comments.

“Australian citizen here, proud to be helping gay kids in small-town western Michigan read books that actually help them,” one donor wrote. “Keep up the good work, and be proud of whomever and whatever you are.”

“As a former Michigander… I can’t stomach seeing a library defunded because they dared to have LGBTQ books on their shelves,” wrote another. “I wish those resources had been available to me when I was a child. Shameful that so much hatred still exists today.”

“I can’t imagine that it was easy to come to work in the morning driving past all of the ‘Vote No to the Library’ signs,” a donor wrote. “But it never seemed to deter your spirits! We’d walk our daughter down to Patmos and we’ve always felt comfortable and welcomed.”

The controversy began earlier in the year when a parent complained about Gender Queer: A Memoir, Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel about coming to terms with eir identity as nonbinary and asexual. The book was in the adult section, but the parent thought that it shouldn’t be in the library at all.

This led to dozens of residents attending library board meetings in the spring, demanding Gender Queer and other books be pulled from the shelves entirely. Some of the other books include Spinning and Kiss Number 8. Both books discuss teen girls who have feelings for other girls.

Library officials said that the library has about 90 books with LGBTQ themes in its 67,000 book collection.

The library agreed to move Gender Queer behind the counter so that people would have to ask a librarian for it if they wanted to read it, but it wasn’t enough. The complaints turned into alleged harassment, and library Director Amber McLain resigned.

“I had to change my name on Facebook for a time to prevent messages that were starting to come in,” McLain said. “I never read any of them fully, but it was the typical fare — that I’m evil, that I’m indoctrinating kids. In March, a woman came into the library filming on her cell phone. She said she was looking for ‘that pedophile librarian’ and ‘the freak with the pink hair.’”

McLain was replaced by interim director Matthew Lawrence, who resigned soon after.

“I love my country, and I believe what is happening is going against the First Amendment,” Lawrence said of the defund movement. “The people who need the library the most can’t vote because they are children.”

Bizarrely, many of the people who voted to cut most of the funding to the library said they don’t believe it should close. Amanda Ensing, who helped organize opposition to the library saying that “it’s not a political issue, it’s a Biblical issue,” even said that she wanted the vote to be a “wake up call” to the library to get rid of the few LGBTQ books that it has.

“A wake-up call to what? To take LGBTQ books off the shelf and then they will give us money? What do you call that? Ransom?” library board director Walton said. “We stand behind the fact that our community is made up of a very diverse group of individuals, and we as a library cater to the diversity of our community.”

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