Librarian says “I fear for my safety” as threats over LGBTQ+ books escalate

Louisiana, library, death threats
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A Louisiana librarian says she no longer feels safe in public after the state attorney general and conservative groups accused local librarians of trying to “groom” and “sexualize” kids by offering books with LGBTQ+ themes.

“I am scared to go places in public,” Amanda Jones, a middle school librarian in Denham Springs, told PBS News Hour. “I fear for my safety, I purchased a taser. I purchased pepper spray. I got additional security cameras around my home.”

Jones, who is also president of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians, became a target after she spoke out against book banning at a July 19, 2022, meeting of the Livingston Parish Library Board of Control.

At the meeting, she said, “No one portion of the community should dictate what the rest of the citizens have access to.” Afterward, a Facebook group called Citizens for a New Louisiana said she was fighting to “keep sexually erotic and pornographic materials in the kid’s section.”

Another Facebook group — Bayou State of Mind, run by a man named Ryan Thames — accused Jones of “teaching anal sex to 11-year-olds.” A group called The Accountability Project said state libraries were offering “sexually explicit and pedophilic materials” to kids and accused librarians of “grooming” kids (a term they removed from their Facebook posts after PBS News Hour asked them about it).

Jones is now suing Thames and the owner of Citizens for a New Louisiana for defamation. Though a judge dismissed her case in September 2022, she plans on appealing.

The librarian took a work sabbatical in January because of the heightened public attention. She said it’s “very scary” to be a librarian right now and added that she has been having panic attacks.

The attacks on librarians have gotten worse as state Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) opened a webpage for state residents to report the “taxpayer-subsided [sic] sexualization of children” by librarians and educators. He is pushing a state law to restrict what minors can check out at libraries.

“Librarians and teachers are neither empowering nor liberating our children by connecting them with books that contain extremely graphic sexual content that is far from age appropriate for young audiences,” Landry’s webpage claims.

Jones criticized Landry’s crusade, as have groups like Louisiana Trans Advocates, Louisiana Citizens Against Censorship, the Louisiana Library Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana.

“Louisiana has so many actual problems like poverty and an opioid crisis,” Jones said. “But Attorney General Jeff Landry chooses to focus on the nonexistent issue of supposed pornography in schools and libraries… Educators and librarians are not giving children pornography.”

ACLU Executive Director Alanah Odoms said Landry was violating First Amendment protections, adding, “It is not lost on anyone that the vast majority of titles and authors criticized by the Attorney General today are by and about people of color, women, and the LGBTQ+ community.”

Landry’s actions aren’t surprising. In a February e-mail, he called libraries a place for “Satan to sit” and referred to his book-banning crusade as “an absolute battle between good and evil.” He supported a state version of Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law and opposed the Biden administration’s interpretation of Title IX which prohibits anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in schools and elsewhere. He also fought to have LGBTQ+ protections stripped from the state.

Book banning throughout the country is at a high. The American Library Association (ALA) reported 681 attempts to ban or restrict over 1,650 titles and other library resources between January 1 and August 31, 2022, PBS News Hour reported. The ALA said the latest figures for 2023 are set to exceed the 2022 totals.

Meanwhile, Louisiana library board meetings have become increasingly contentious as pro-censorship activists have passionately disagreed with free-speech advocates and LGBTQ+ allies.

The Lafayette Parish Library Board of Control recently elected Robert Judge, a man who opposed a local library hosting a Drag Queen Story Hour in 2018. He has arranged for two armed Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s deputies to flank the board during meetings and to remove citizens from board meetings if they “disturb” or “interfere” by directly addressing or criticizing board members. Board policy attorney Paige Beyt admitted the policy “allows for no debate or confrontation with the board.”

In February 2022, deputies removed Drag Queen Story Time organizer Matthew Humphrey for allegedly speaking out of order during the meeting.

“Robert Judge is weaponizing law enforcement to silence minority voices and will stop at nothing if we don’t fight back,” Humphrey said.

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