Decision to pull children’s book about pronouns from library display called ‘censorship’
Suffield First Selectman Colin Moll was criticized this past week by a handful of residents for his decision to remove a children’s book about pronouns from a display at Kent Memorial Library.
In addition to the traditional she, her, he, him pronouns in a the book written for 4- to 8- year-old children, it includes the more recent they, them, their pronouns when referring to individuals whose gender identity is fluid.
Moll said in response to the controversy that he had the book taken off display, but had not banned or removed it from the library shelf, and that was in response to a resident’s complaint.
It wasn’t the material that prompted him to do it, he said, but rather because, “It’s my job to respond to residents.”
“I took a middle ground approach I thought was balanced,” he said.
He read the book after the complaint, slept on it and after a conversation with the librarian, had it taken off display, Moll said.
The situation occurred in late December/early January, but was rekindled recently by an editorial on censorship in the “Suffield Observer.”
The book is titled, “What are your Words? A book about pronouns,” and is written by Katherine Locke.
Some of the words and phrases residents directed at Moll during the public speaking portion of Wednesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting included: “abuse of power,” “disappointed, angry and resolute,” “censorship,” embarrassed.”
Kristen Hamilton, who read the book with her fourth-grader, said during the meeting that there are “way more copies of this book floating around,” than there would have been without the controversy. She said the move to take the book off display was a “disappointment” and embarrassment.”
“Public libraries should not participate in censorship of any kind,” she said. “If a library (patron) does not choose to read something, that is their decision to make.”
Aside from the censorship issue, some of the disparaging comments from residents were around Moll’s response to what they said was “anonymous” complaint, and the book being part of a “kindness” display.
Neither are true, Moll said.
He told The Courant the complaint wasn’t anonymous — although he didn’t disclose that at the meeting — and that it was a general display on a bottom shelf, not one focused on kindness.
Residents also expressed dismay that the decision was made by a first selectman and not a library official. But Moll said that while the library board has a police/system in place for people who request banning of books, there isn’t one for those who want books taken off display.
That is being addressed, he said. He said the charter states that the first selectman is to act as the CEO for the town.
“In the absence of a policy, it is my job to respond,” Moll, a Republican said, adding that some of the pushback appears to be political.
In the book, a boy, Ari, is visited by his favorite uncle, Lior, whom Ari refers to as them, they. The boy says in the book he likes that people can be, “described by more than what they look like” and they can feel like different pronouns on different days. The two travel through the neighborhood meeting friends and describing them with adjectives and pronouns – he, she, him, her, they, them.
In one case they refer to a neighbor who used to have a different gender.
Resident Ann Franczyk, a retired nurse practitioner married to a retired pediatrician, said during the meeting that their son “came out as gay,” in 1998 at age 16, and was finally able to do so because there was a library of materials in high school, as well as a gay/straight alliance.
She said he knew he was gay earlier, but he went to a faith-based elementary school, so nothing in those early years “affirmed who he was.”
“All he heard was that being gay was disordered, bad and unspeakable,” Franczyk said. She said “censorship” is “unbecoming of an elected official and undermines the Democratic process.”
Another resident, Amy Healy, said during the meeting that the book is one that could make “LGBTQ plus children and adults feel welcome in the library, feel acknowledged and at less risk for suicide.”
Healy said she “missed the memo the first selectman had been trained as a librarian” and also “the memo” that the town was being governed based on “single, anonymous” complaints. She said it “opens the door for many more disastrous decisions.”
Healy asked rhetorically whether the fire department should get rid of sirens if a citizen complains they’re too loud or whether the police department should move to horses if someone complains they drive too fast in an emergency.
While it isn’t customary for the board to comment on items said during the public comment portion of a meeting, Healy asked and the residents were given some feedback.
Selectman Jerry Mahoney, a Republican, said the library has “faced challenges presenting points of view to residents,” and are “legally obligated” to present things in a “legal and balanced way.”
The book was on display, but there was “no balance,” he said. He did not elaborate.
Mahoney said not everyone agrees with the age the book is directed at and he also said the child’s parents are never mentioned in the book, so there’s no role for parents.
Selectman Melvin Chafetz, a Democrat, said he is pleased the library board is taking steps to put a procedure in place.
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