It was standing room only for the Macon County Public Library February meeting as residents signed up to speak during public comment period to express their frustration with LGTBQ book displays that they claim promote the sexualization of children.
“Today’s issue is purely about the library’s obsession with children and sex as they pursue a destructive woke agenda,” said Macon County resident Jim Gaston, who was first to speak during public comment. “There has been blatant and purposeful misinformation from the library and news media on this issue. Very simply, parents and taxpayers want neutrality at a public place and if there are media reps here today, which I know there are, if you try to spin this dialogue as intolerant or wanting to ban books, or shut down libraries or restrict access, you’re going to be lying through your teeth and not have any credibility. The same goes for any library staff or anyone else who speaks with the buzzwords of equity, inclusion, or diversity. This is specifically to change the narrative because that is what the extremist library association has coaches the library staff to do.”
Gaston’s comments come follow a nearly two-year back and forth between a group of community members and the Macon County Public Library over a June Pride Month display at the library. Gaston, along with other members of the community first spoke out against the Pride Month display in 2021 after displays were featured in both the children’s and teen sections of the library. The displays included decorations and LGTBQ themed books. After receiving concerns from the community in 2021, the library staff did not include a Pride month display in the children’s section in 2022, however, there was a display featured in the teen’s section. Despite the library’s efforts to appease those opposed to the display, the group again spoke against the library and the display in 2022 — this time calling for the Macon County Board of Commissioners to not grant a $20,000 funding increase to the library fro employee raises as a result.
The Fontana Regional Library system manages six libraries across Macon, Jackson and Swain counties, including three libraries in Macon County. In January, the Fontana Regional Library Board proposed a change to library system’s collections development policy “designed to foster productive conversations with the community moving forward.”
Tuesday night’s public comment was sparked by the policy changes and call to action for the board to take official action regarding future displays.
Gaston continued by claiming that the ALA (American Library Association) has provided public libraries with information on how to censor parents and to change the narrative with the media to be able to “promote child sex in the name of diversity.”
“It is past time for this library to separate from the ALA,” Gaston stated. He finished by stating that if the library were to feature “another display of sex-themed or gender confusion to minors the community would be publicly calling for the resignation of certain staff that need to be replaced.”
While Gaston and other residents called for the Macon County Public Library to separate from or “pull out of” the ALA, library board members informed the group that Macon County is not part of the ALA.
Other residents who addressed the board on Tuesday not stated that despite what some may thing, the group did not want to ban books.
“We do not want to ban books. We have never asked for that,” said Elizabeth Albers. “This is what Macon County taxpayers and concerned parents are asking: Books that have controversial, sexual ideas not be placed front and center in the children’s and teen’s display. This is about what is being promoted in our children’s and teen’s area…Let me repeat. Parents and taxpayers have said repeatedly that we do not want to ban books. If anyone makes this false claim after what has been spoke today, they will have no credibility whatsoever.”
Commissioner Danny Antoine, who serves alongside Commissioner Paul Higdon as a liaison to the library on behalf of the commission, spoke during public comment period regarding his concerns about certain books being available to the public at the library.
“There are books we have in our library system that are absolutely unacceptable and beyond reprehensible to even speak to what is inside of these books,” said Antoine. Specifically addressing the book Gender Queer, which has been identified as the number 1 banned book in America due to its explicit content, Antoine said, “If I opened this book right now, everyone in this room would look at me like I was crazy. Why? Because it is too explicit… but we are ok with our kids reading it. It is wrong.”
Antoine said he first found out about the book Gender Queer from listening to discussions from around the country occurring at various school boards regarding the book and images in the book that depict children engaged in sexual acts.
Antoine went on to say that there is no reason children should have access to books such as Gender Queer and that there is no reason for the library to carry the book at all.
Commissioner Antoine then referenced North Carolina General Statute 14-190.17A — third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor which states that “a person commits the offense of third-degree exploitation of a minor if, knowing the character or content of the material, he possesses material that contains a visual representation of a minor engaging in sexual activity.”
Again referring to Gender Queer, Commissioner followed his reading of the North Carolina General Statute by stating, “This is wrong. These books got to go.”
Antoine also referenced NC General Statute 14-190.1 — which says it shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to intentionally disseminate obscenity while addressing the library board. According to Antoine, he was provided the statutes he read during public comment period by Macon County Attorney Eric Ridenour.
The library board countered Commissioner Antoine’s claims regarding the general statute by noting that he only referenced a potion of NCGS 14-190. A specific provision in the statute regarding disseminating harmful materials to minors states, “It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution under this section that: The defendant was a school, church, museum, public library, governmental agency, medical clinic, or hospital carrying out its legitimate function; or an employee or agent of such an organization acting in that capacity and carrying out a legitimate duty of his employment.”
Several speakers during public comment period called for “neutrality” from the public library and dawned stickers with the slogan. Stating that they want to see the library avoid political issues or controversial topics and remain neutral in all things.
“I just want to speak to the parents in this room right now. God came and he revealed himself as a Father. That was his Supreme Authority that he revealed himself as. So that tells me that the parents in this room, and the Fathers represented here, are the highest authority in the land so I just want to thank you for showing up,” said Casey Wilson. Wilson pleaded with the library board to “allow parents to raise their children in regards to their sexual preferences. Let us educate and teach them in regards to these things.”
Members of the library board noted that they agreed with those who spoke about how parents should be in charge of what they read and see, which is parents should monitor what books they are reading from the library and decide if something is appropriate to read and check out. However, members of the crowd said that parents shouldn’t have to monitor their children at the public library and that the library should be a safe place.
Commissioner Paul Higdon stated that at a separate meeting with library leadership it might have been perceived that the county would not continue funding the library over the issues surrounding the Pride displays, however that was not the case.
“We will continue funding the library. This library is a valuable asset to the community,” said Chairman Higdon. “We have a disagreement now about some book displays and other things, but those things are going to be worked out.”
Librarian Tracy Fitzmaurice said that she understood Commissioner Antoine to mean he wouldn’t finically support the library due to the disagreements, to which Antoine denied.
“What you heard me say was I wouldn’t support this kind of mess [pointing to the Gender Queer book on the table] in a library. That is what I said pretty clearly,” said Antoine. Antoine later further clarified by stating, “My stance is pretty clear. It has nothing to do with funding the library, ok? It has everything to do with what I will and I will not support and I will not support it. In no way, shape or form. There is no sexually explicit, pornographic materials that should ever be available to any child.”
Chairman Higdon said that he and Commissioner Antoine requested that “these books be segregated or placed in a separate section, label them, and not allow someone with just a card, who isn’t 18 years old, to check them out or have access to them.” Higdon said that request was rejected by the library staff under the first amendment clause. Higdon said he then requested to make the Macon County Public Library a neutral facility.
“By neutral I mean when you walk in there are no displays of any kind supporting anything that is recognized by the Federal or State government, or the ALA, or anybody else with a political bone to grind. Make it neutral,” said Higdon.
Higdon said that suggestion was also rejected, at which point the meeting between himself, Commissioner Antoine, Fitzmaurice and new Macon County Public Librarian Abby Hardison was ended.
Although several of the speakers during public comment suggested members of the library board “worked for the taxpayers” the members of the Macon County library board are volunteers who serve as an advisory board to the Fontana Regional Library System. And while the Macon County Public library is funded in part by a contribution from the Macon County Board of Commissioners, the library operates as a nonprofit entity. In 2022, The Fontana Regional Library system’s annual audit report showed a total revenue of $3,637,486 of which, $2,503,356 was identified as being unrestricted county and municipal appropriations.
The library board concluded the public comment period by ackowleding that the concerns were recieved and that they are committed to working with county commissioners to find a solution.