Attendees at a Livingston Parish Library Board of Control meeting July 19, 2022, show their opposition to a member who had submitted a list of books that she deemed in appropriate for children and young adult readers. Five of the books contained LGBTQ themes. (Piper Hutchinson/Louisiana Illuminator)
LIVINGSTON – The public notice read “book content,” nothing more. Spurred by word of mouth and social media, dozens of people piled into a small room in a Livingston Parish library Tuesday night to fight back against a public official concerned about LGBTQ content for young readers.
Erin Sandefur, a member of the Livingston Parish Library Board of Control, asked her colleagues to look into content she deemed inappropriate. Sandefur said a state official, who she declined to name, brought the issue to her attention.
Her research into the contents of the parish’s shelves brought her to several items she deemed too explicit for children. A list of eight titles, five of which touch on LGBTQ themes, were distributed to attendees.
Included in the handout were pages from several books she found in the children and young adults sections. One page, from a young adult book meant to teach teenagers about sex, included instructions on how to perform various sex acts.
Other books included in her list are aimed at teaching children about gender identity, including “It Feels Good to Be Yourself,” a picture book for young children by Theresa Thorn.
“She’s a transgender girl,” the book reads, over a drawing of a young girl running up the steps to her house. “That means when she was born, everyone thought she was a boy. Until she grew a little older – old enough to tell everyone that she’s actually a girl.”
Sandefur said that she wanted to board to “look into the books that we have in our library in regard to inappropriate sexual conduct, content for children and young adults.”
After Sandefur’s brief comments, the board opened the floor for public comment. Nearly half of attendees spoke on the matter, drawing the public comment period out for 90 minutes.
Most of those who spoke were lifelong Livingston Parish residents against removing the books.
“I have attempted suicide based off my sexuality,” Jane Jones said. “If I had read these books when I was a kid, I wouldn’t have made that attempt.”
Other speakers also shared stories of the trauma they experienced as queer people in a conservative area of Louisiana.
Gabby Blanchard said she was the victim of multiple sexual assaults from her best friend in high school “in an attempt to turn (her) straight.” This could have been avoided if her friend had been exposed to books discussing consent at a young age, Blanchard said.
Autumn, a Walker resident, said she has been sexually assaulted multiple times.
“One thing that we need to know is that our kids are being sexual regardless of what we want,” Autumn said. “By teaching consent, by teaching what’s appropriate, by teaching how to interact with others, by teaching representation, you prevent assaults on your students.”
Others spoke on preserving the sanctity of public libraries.
“I’m going to ask you please don’t bring intolerance into this place, this place of books and learning,” said Lori Callais, a former Democratic candidate for a Livingston Parish-based state house district.
“As someone who found the library to be a place of immeasurable power in a world that often tells children that they are powerless, I will never stop fighting to ensure that this library system retains that status,” Kelsey Sibley said.
A handful of speakers spoke against the content of the books. While some supported pulling them from shelves, others favored moving the books to an adult section of the library where they would still technically be accessible to young readers.
Michael Lunsford, a conservative activist who leads the Lafayette-based Citizens for a New Louisiana, pondered why so many “political activists” showed up when the public notice for the meeting was so vague. He seemed to suggest some outside organization had mobilized people to attend the meeting.
In an interview after the meeting, Lunsford speculated that a member of the state library board was responsible for “stirring the pot” without naming anyone.
Lunsford was involved with efforts to remove books from the Lafayette library system. He said he has been in contact with Sandefur about “political issues” but did not specify if he had worked with her on targeting books in the Livingston Parish library.
After the public comment period ended, Sandefur echoed Lunsford’s sentiment about the large crowd.
“I don’t know who took this and ran with it and turned it into censorship, banning,” Sandefur said. “I never said a word other than book content.”
Sandefur said attendees had “fallen victim to polarization coming from the media” and accused them of spreading propaganda in their comments.
The board ultimately moved on without taking any action or any of the other board members discussing Sandefur’s concerns. Sandefur said that she would “certainly” bring the item back for discussion during the board’s September meeting.
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