Mothers question whether LGBTQ displays are targeting young children?
The county’s largest library, May Memorial in Burlington, appears to be the latest battleground in America’s so-called culture wars – i.e., the unending struggle between conflicting ideologies and values.
Three Alamance County mothers who say they’ve traditionally relied heavily on the library in Burlington for their children’s education have also raised concerns about what they say are age-inappropriate books that are available to young children at May Memorial Library (see related story, this edition).
Two of those moms, Cheryl Sandford and Tara Ariel of Burlington, told The Alamance News this week that it’s not the content itself that they object to – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ)-themed books – so much as the prominence of the display, on a shelf along a passageway that leads into the children’s reading area and directly adjacent to a door with a sign that reads “Children’s Programs Meeting Room.”
In separate interviews Wednesday, Sandford and Ariel insisted that they had asked library staff about why the display had been placed in a location where it’s easily visible to young children. Both women said they had been told that the books are popular and would remain on display permanently.
Both mothers wondered whether the display at May Memorial Library is intentionally aimed at young children who’re just learning to read and aren’t yet thinking about their sexuality.
“It’s in the Young Adult section but is clearly visible going into the children’s section,” Sandford said in an interview Wednesday morning. “Going into the children’s section, [you can see] signs that say ‘Read with Pride.’” An Alamance News reporter subsequently confirmed that the poster Sandford described is displayed on the side of a bookshelf near the entrance to the children’s reading area.
Sandford, who describes herself as a “homeschool mom of 10 years” and a former English teacher, said she had noticed the display while visiting the library with her children, the youngest of whom are 11 and 13. (She said she also has two grown children.)
“My alarm was just that it was there, and I said, ‘good grief, why is it there?’” Sandford recalled. She said her friend, Tara Ariel, had taken her son to the library to check out books and was alarmed to find that one he picked out – A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, featuring an illustration of a rabbit on the cover – depicts two male bunnies who marry each other.
“We’re talking about [an] elementary-age boy reading a book,” said Sandford.
“My six-year-old took out A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo [a book about two male bunnies who marry]. At the time this happened, he was five. He just looks at the pictures. I didn’t know from looking at the cover that it was an LGBTQ book.” [She said she took it home and started reading the story to her son, and as the plot began unfolding, she quickly switched up the narrative because she didn’t feel it was age-appropriate.]
“I understand my kids will be exposed at some point, but I don’t want to have to explain to my six-year-old why this one male bunny likes this other male bunny.”
– Tara Ariel
“I go to the library with my boys; I try to go often because I want to make sure my kids read,” Ariel told The Alamance News in an interview Wednesday afternoon. As a mother of eight whose youngest children range from ages six to 14, Ariel said she doesn’t have time to closely examine all of the books her children pick out at the library.
“My six-year-old took out A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo,” Ariel recalled. “At the time this happened, he was five. He just looks at the pictures. I didn’t know from looking at the cover that it was an LGBTQ book.” She said she took it home and started reading the story to her son, and as the plot began unfolding, she quickly switched up the narrative because she didn’t feel it was age-appropriate.
“I feel like it’s [LGBTQ-themed material] intentionally geared to children.” – Tara Ariel
“I understand we cannot take this stuff out of the library,” Ariel emphasized. “My concern is, I don’t know what my children are picking up, and I feel like it’s [LGBTQ-themed material] intentionally geared to children.”
She pointed to the poster on the side of the bookcase in the Young Adults section, adorned by cartoon characters and bright colors that children naturally gravitate toward. “The librarian was kind of taken back when I asked about it,” Ariel recalled. “I was told it was year-round. I asked why that specific display [was permanent] and not others. She [the librarian] said we do have a display that’s put up and changed monthly.” Ariel said she inquired with two other librarians who told her, “‘Of course we have this LGBTQ display.’” When she asked whether they could categorize and label the LGBTQ books, they responded by asking Ariel, “‘Do you think we should categorize everything?’”
Ariel said the librarian had told her that LGBTQ books “are all scattered throughout the children’s section.”
“My six-year-old doesn’t need to know about sex,” Ariel elaborated. “They told me it’s my duty as a parent that I should read the books before my children check them out. I have eight children; I honestly don’t have time. I don’t want to seem insensitive – I understand my kids will be exposed at some point, but I don’t want to have to explain to my six-year-old why this one male bunny likes this other male bunny.”
While Sandford said that she isn’t concerned that exposure to LGBTQ books will negatively affect her children’s development, she does want the materials clearly labeled so that parents know what their children are reading.
“I am suggesting a change in the LGBTQ+ display in the Young Adults section in the May Memorial Library,” Sandford said Wednesday morning. “Rather than have such a divisive space, it would serve the patrons if they [mature reading materials] were marked on the spine and then shelved appropriately. Children could find the books they want, and parents could be fully aware of what their children are reading.”
Sandford provided the newspaper of a draft copy of a letter that she said she’s is planning to send to local decision-makers, in which she outlines her reasoning why thematically-mature content should be labeled.
“Books of every reading level, regardless of intended audience, should be moved to the adult section so that parents can make decisions for their children at the right time when it is age appropriate. Parents know best what the right time is based on the age, interest, and experiences of their child. Placing mature reading topics in an adult area is the most responsible way to approach LGBTQ+ media that includes divisive, graphic, or suggestive reading material.” – Cheryl Sandford
“An identification sticker is a tool that helps patrons of every worldview better identify and consume the media of their choice,” Sandford wrote. “All books with the LGBTQ+ sticker should be shelved in the adult section of the library. Books of every reading level, regardless of intended audience, should be moved to the adult section so that parents can make decisions for their children at the right time when it is age appropriate. Parents know best what the right time is based on the age, interest, and experiences of their child. Placing mature reading topics in an adult area is the most responsible way to approach LGBTQ+ media that includes divisive, graphic, or suggestive reading material.”
Like her friend and fellow homeschool mom Sandford, Ariel said she would like LGBTQ books and other “mature” content clearly labeled so that she take a quick glance and decide whether it’s appropriate reading material for her children. Ariel also pointed out that movies and T.V. shows are clearly labeled for appropriate age groups – for example, T.V. shows are labeled “TV-MA” when they depict smoking, alcohol/drug use, violence, profanity, nudity, or mature thematic content.
“I don’t have that at a public library,” Ariel told the newspaper. “After reading that one book, I was shocked it would be in the children’s [section]. I know at some point I’ll have to explain that to my kids but not at six [years old].”
The former English teacher Sandford said she’s well aware of how critical reading is to a child’s academic success.
“My oldest son volunteered at May Memorial; he’s now 22,” Sandford recalled. “I would never let my children volunteer at May Memorial [with] the way it is. I have taught in public and private schools; I understand a little bit about children’s literature and how critical the library is. The fact that they’ve decided to pepper the library with an agenda makes it so that I am not able to fully utilize it as a resource.”
While she said other homeschool moms have loaned her reference books and other resources she needs to teach her kids, Sandford believes it should be left up to parents to decide when to expose their children to certain topics.
“When you’re talking about a child that is third grade and below – these are children that do not even have mature sex hormones – it’s not even on their brain,” Sandford explained. “It doesn’t even occur to them in a natural context to think about sexual issues. Unless you have a clear reason to introduce sexuality to children, to protect them, to explain something they don’t understand – under those circumstances, I answer my children’s questions. I’m very clear to them, and I’m very honest with them. I do not shirk my responsibility as the shepherd of my children’s hearts.”
In an interview Wednesday, Lindsay McKinney of Graham shared a similar experience she had when she took her children, who she said are elementary and middle school-aged, to check out books from May Memorial Library.
“My kids love to read, so we’ll go the library and pick out books,” McKinney told the newspaper. “I give them free rein with whatever they want to pick out. [One] went over to the graphic novels, opened up the book and said, ‘Oh look, Mommy.’ It was two girls – it looked like children – kissing and partially laying down. This was my fourth-grader; I told her to put the book down and go look in a different section. I didn’t know there were other books [until Sandford] told her there was a whole section. I haven’t taught my girls yet about homosexuality; I’m just getting to the basics, and that’s not what I want them to see. I want them to see what is natural versus something we’re not comfortable with.”
“I don’t think that reading in a book, especially in the children’s section, is how I want them to learn about sexuality. I want them to learn about it at home. If there’s a section that they can stay away from, until I want them to know more, [that’s] fine, but I don’t think to mix it in with the other stuff is safe or appropriate.” – Lindsay McKinney
McKinney said her children were able to discern that what they’d seen in the “graphic novels” (or long-form comic books) wasn’t what their mother had talked to them about.
“I don’t think that reading in a book, especially in the children’s section, is how I want them to learn about sexuality,” McKinney said Wednesday. “I want them to learn about it at home. If there’s a section that they can stay away from, until I want them to know more, [that’s] fine, but I don’t think to mix it in with the other stuff is safe or appropriate.”