Voters in Jamestown Township, Michigan rejected a ballot measure during the primary elections earlier this week to renew a property tax that funds the local library.
The tax pays for 84% of Patmos Library’s $245,000 yearly budget. The failed measure means that the library will run out of money at some point next year, library board president Larry Walton said.
Earlier this year, 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.
Bridge Michigan reports that 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.”
A group called Jamestown Conservatives started at around Memorial Day to campaign against the library, 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.
When the library’s funding ballot initiative was coming up, signs started appearing in the town, telling people to oppose the measure.
“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.
"Vote NO on Library" pic.twitter.com/juQ2W7kqhx
— Jason Scott (@textfiles) August 4, 2022
On election day, several voters told Bridge Michigan why they were voting to defund the library.
“We don’t need to see those books out front,” said Sarah Johnson, who voted to defund. “We’re all for the library. I use it. We want to make a statement that we want some say in the books.”
“They are trying to groom our children to believe that it’s OK to have these sinful desires,” said Amanda Ensing, one of the organizers of the library defunding movement. “It’s not a political issue, it’s a Biblical issue.”
Bizarrely, many of the people who voted to cut most of the funding to the library said they don’t believe it should close. Ensing 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.
“They can ask for a millage again,” she said.
“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.”
He added that the library provides many services to the community, including free wireless access to people who can’t afford internet access otherwise. Even the community room that was used for the election earlier this week will have to be closed if the library is closed.
The measure can be put on the ballot again in November to try to get the funding back for another year. Since the measure lost by 25 percentage points, many aren’t hopeful that public sentiment can be turned around that quickly, especially since removing library books is a slow process that raises First Amendment concerns.
There are no elections scheduled for 2023, so it’s unlikely that the town will vote again on the measure if it fails in November. The library has about $325,000 in reserves.
The tax in question is about $24 on houses with a market value of over $250,000.