News (USA)

GOP book bans could shut down this independent bookstore in Pete Buttigieg’s hometown

Chasten & Pete Buttigieg
Chasten & Pete Buttigieg Photo: Courtesy of Chasten Buttigieg

An Indiana bookstore’s future is in jeopardy because of Republican book bans targeting queer literature.

Brain Lair Books in South Bend – the city that out Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is from and was mayor of – prioritizes works created by marginalized authors, particularly LGBTQ+ literature and books by people of color. Its founder, Kathy Burnette, wanted to make the place safe for queer youth.

“I have a biracial daughter who wasn’t seeing herself in books. I noticed what teachers were teaching and realized that if you don’t see yourself in literature, you have a hard time understanding your place in society,” she told The Advocate.

However, a recently enacted piece of legislation, H.B. 1447, mandates that libraries have a procedure for the public to object to books that are deemed either “obscene” or “harmful to minors.” The bill was introduced by Republican state Reps. Julie McGuire and Becky Cash, both known for targeting the state’s trans population.

Failure to comply with the law can lead to felony charges.

This led to school libraries avoiding queer books entirely, with purchases from bookstores like Brain Lair coming to a sudden halt. This caused significant financial strain.

“All the bans on books really hurt us,” Burnette said. “Schools just stopped buying books from us because they didn’t want to have the appearance of supporting controversial literature.”

“That hurt a lot, and I’ve been trying to recover from that. We have been doing a lot these past few months to get back, but it just hasn’t been enough.”

Burnette said that if things don’t change by the end of July, she’s likely going to have to close the bookstore entirely.

“We’re just hanging on by a thread,” she said, emphasizing that the store already doesn’t have enough funds on hand to support itself.

However, Burnette and the community aren’t going down without a fight. She plans to launch a GoFundMe to help cover costs and is looking into fundraising as an option.

Additionally, a local school known for its predominantly LGBTQ+ staff and student body, River Montessori High School, hosted a fundraiser for Brain Lair.

The fundraiser even had a special guest appearance from Pete Buttigieg’s husband, author Chasten Buttigieg. Pete Buttigieg is a former mayor of South Bend.

Eric Oglesbee, co-founder of River Montessori High School, said, “It is hard to overestimate the value of Brain Lair Books to our local community and the world at large. What Kathy has created transcends the term ‘bookstore’; it is so much more than that.” 

“Brain Lair Books brings together marginalized voices into a chorus that can’t be ignored. The way she tirelessly brings author after author to our area and curates an ever-growing collection of diverse works in her shop helps everyone be seen and known.”

“On a personal level, I’m deeply grateful for Kathy’s work as an early board member at River Montessori High School. She, before many, saw what was possible and did everything she could to help us succeed. Losing Brain Lair would make the world a dimmer place.”

The bookstore is using a GoFundMe to raise funds. They currently have over $5000 of their $300,000 goal raised.

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