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Debate Continues Over Gender Queer’s Place in the Goshen Public Library

The Goshen News - Staff Photo - Create Article
Eric Warner & Staff Writer

April 17: Goshen residents continued to debate over having the controversial book Gender Queer: A Memoir shelved in the Goshen Public Library. GOP Town Chairman Tony DeMarco wants the book removed to ensure children don’t read it. “In accordance with Goshen’s Community Standards, we want to protect–what we want to do is protect our children from obscene material,” said DeMarco. He suggested the town host a referendum to determine if the library should have obscene material that’s accessible to minors. (Note: Under State Statutes, the State of Connecticut is deemed to be the community when applying community standards to determine whether a material is obscene, not an individual town.)

Deputy Republican Registrar of Voters Lucia Miller later compared the book to Fifty Shades of Grey and called it pornography, “This author, had she just wanted to get her message across, could have done so without the pornographic photos and pictures… Here’s the definition of pornography: sexually explicit writing, images, video, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal.” Several residents then responded saying the book was never in the children’s section but was in the Young Adults (YA) section of the library. (Note: According to the School Library Journal, Gender Queer is intended for teenagers 16 years old or older though other various booksellers and literary boards have recommended the book for people as old as 18+ to as young as 14+.)

Library Board of Directors member Lynette Miller reiterated that the Friends of the Library should relinquish oversight over the Goshen Public Library, “If the Friends of the Library or someone on the Friends of the Library would like to be sitting here, then they should run for the Library Board, but they are a separate organization, Period.” Miller claimed she wasn’t targeting the Friends but believes they overstepped their boundaries and wants to “clean up some blurred lines.” She then suggested that Library Director Tabitha Guarnieri withheld information from the Library Board by not informing them of her discussions with The Goshen News. Miller directly addressed Guarnieri regarding Gender Queer complaints, asking, “Are you alleging that I’ve been voting on these matters in bad faith? Hmm? Are you alleging that I did not read the books, [that] I didn’t take it out of the Goshen Library?” Guarnieri denied these allegations, but Miller claimed she made these statements to The Goshen News, which the library director also denied. Miller asked Guarnieri to issue retractions to the newspaper and issue personal letters of apology to each complainant. She alleged Guarnieri failed to perform a comprehensive review of each complaint, including Miller’s own complaint, regarding which she claimed she did in fact read Gender Queer. Miller alleged Guarnieri violated Connecticut General Statutes by sharing “confidential” information with third parties, the Friends of the Library and The Goshen News, regarding the book complaints. (Note: Statute prohibits disclosing what books individuals by name have borrowed from a library, but no such information was provided to The Goshen News. The complaint forms are not confidential, according to the FOIC. They are public records presented at a public meeting and are therefore subject to FOIA disclosure.)

Miller further suggested the board “admonish” library board member Josephine Jones for speaking with The Goshen News. (Note: The FOIC has advised that elected and appointed officials and  their constituents can speak to each other and the news media and no law was violated.)

She further challenged Guarnieri’s review of the book and claimed it should be restricted for all minors, “Minors! …So when we evaluate all these things with regard to this statute… think of a five-year-old, think of an eight-year-old, think of a nine-year-old, think of a 10-year-old for god’s sake!” (Note: Leaving a child under the age of 12 unattended in the library is not allowed. –Goshen Public Library Policy for Patrons, #4)

Miller suggested various alternative ways to address Gender Queer. She suggested the library either remove the book, make the book available online only, eliminate library classroom visitation programs, restrict unaccompanied minors under 16 years old, or relocate the book to the adult section with a “dummy book” requiring librarians to withhold the book from public access until someone requests it. Miller claimed this was only a little bit of censorship.

Guarnieri later explained that information regarding the complaints was released via the Freedom of Information Act. She further explained that eight complaints submitted were not accepted due to the complainants failing to complete all required questions on Request for Reconsideration forms. All other 42 complaints submitted were properly reviewed. After a brief debate between Guarnieri and Miller, Patricia Sanders motioned to table this discussion to a special executive meeting. This was unanimously approved.

After the meeting, Library Board clerk Lee Kennedy resigned her position and Town GOP Chair Tony DeMarco subsequently filed a complaint against Kennedy. (Note: See Board of Selectman meeting summaries for April 23rd and 30th and Board of Finance Meeting summary for April 24th.)

May 3 Special Meeting

On May 3, a Special Meeting of the Library Board was held for the purposes of reviewing and correcting what were called the “grossly inaccurate” minutes of the April 17th meeting, to vote on the placement of the book Gender Queer, and to review correspondence received by the Board.

Multiple corrections and redactions were made to both the April 17th and March 20th meeting minutes, in the first of the meeting.  One was a correction to the March 20th minutes involving an excerpt from Library Director Tabitha Guarnieri’s letter of response to the Requests for Reconsideration of Gender Queer. Chair Henrietta Horvay acknowledged that under Freedom of Information rules, Guarnieri’s entire letter should have been included, rather than just excerpts, and the minutes were amended to reflect that. Other sections of the March minutes were struck following assertions that they were inaccurate, taken out of context, combined portions of separate discussions incorrectly, or were not corroborated by the meeting recording.

Regarding the April 17th minutes, multiple items were struck from the record, including a statement that “Multiple residents discussed a [Goshen News] article that they said were inaccuracies,” and a statement that  All books in CT libraries meet criteria for not being pornography.” (Emphasis is original.)

Some discussion revolved around an item in the minutes using the term “personal targeting”. The word “targeting” was used in the Goshen News article on the March Library Board meeting in regard to Miller’s questioning of the Friends of the Library. Miller said it was not targeting, but rather that it was a matter of proper business.

“If I may say you have a very aggressive tone, impoliteness, to our Library Director,” said board member Josephine Jones, addressing Miller. “I think the way you said these things, calmly now… is entirely different from the tone that you had that evening.”

“Yep, I’m a very direct person”, Miller responded. “I’ve been in business a long time…but I haven’t spoken in front of a lot of people in a long time and it’s a matter that I was passionate about…I speak very directly, and I shouldn’t be categorized by a third party as to anything else… and I think it’s improper.”

“But you were speaking to our Library Director,” said Jones. “You were pointing at her.”

Miller denied pointing and said there was no pointing on the video of the meeting. At that point, Chair Horvay directed the meeting back to correction of the March minutes.

Regarding an accusation by Miller against Jones for speaking with The Goshen News, Miller said “It was inappropriate for Josephine to discuss Library Board business that’s actively before the board in the newspaper, and I’ll stand by that comment”. (Note: The Freedom of Information Commission has stated that there is no such restriction under the law.)

An hour and 17 minutes into the meeting, the April minutes were adopted as amended and the Board turned to the subject of placement of the book in the library. Chair Horvay stated that this item had been placed on the agenda at the request of 1st Selectman Carusillo and suggested that it be tabled until the next meeting. Josephine Jones then said that “this should not be on the agenda because it is not our purview as to where the book goes, it’s the librarian’s decision”.

Horvay agreed, saying that she was asked to put the item on the agenda and she did. “I’m sometimes stuck in the middle…It should not be there.”

While Carusillo and Miller wanted a vote to proceed in order to codify the book’s current placement in the adult non-fiction section of the library, Jones resisted on the grounds that the Board has no authority to do so. A motion to table this subject until the Library Board’s next meeting was adopted.

Finally, Horvay referred to “a stack of correspondence…from the State, from all kinds of people in Connecticut, not only from Goshen”. Jones requested that a letter from the Goshen Library’s Children’s Program Director, Emily Cole, be read into the record, which was approved. The following are excerpted from that letter:

“First, no matter what book is in our catalog, the children in our community would be protected… If a child is at the library without their parents they are not allowed to browse or check out books that are in the Young Adults or Adults sections…Despite my own, or any of your personal, religious or political beliefs, it is imperative to provide resources, books, and support for all members of our community. Times have changed, our community has changed, and our library needs to evolve. The book has already been taken out of the YA section and there should be no further action taken. My only hope is that the teenager that might have needed that book will have parents that will support them to access it.”