Conservative outcry over books targets Wyoming librarians
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Books about sex, LGBTQ issues and how to have a baby have public library employees in a deeply conservative Wyoming city facing possible prosecution after angry local residents complained to police the material is obscene and doesn’t belong in sections for children and teenagers.
For weeks, Campbell County Public Library officials have been facing a local outcry over the books and for scheduling a transgender magician to perform for youngsters, an act canceled amid threats against the magician and library staff.
The books are “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson, “How Do You Make a Baby” by Anna Fiske, “Doing It” by Hannah Witton, “Sex is a Funny Word” by Corey Silverberg, and “Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy” by Andrew P. Smiler, according to Susan Sisti, a local pastor who has been raising concerns about those and other books in the library.
“It’s really easy to go into the library and look around a little bit and find a filthy book that should not even be in a public library,” said Sisti, pastor of Open Door Church in Gillette. “These books are absolutely appalling.”
Now, after a complaint filed with the sheriff ’s office, prosecutors are reviewing the case. They will seek appointment of a special prosecutor to weigh in as well before deciding whether to pursue charges, County Attorney Mitchell Damsky announced last week.
Investigators haven’t contacted library officials about the case, leaving them unsure which books got the library in potential legal trouble, said the library’s executive director, Terri Lesley.
Told the list provided by Sisti, Lesley said library officials had reviewed a complaint about “This Book is Gay” and determined it belonged in the library’s Teen Room. The decision was being appealed to the library board while library officials review pending complaints about the other four.
In all, the library has been working through 35 recent complaints about 18 books, she said, a situation she said appeared to be quite unusual for a public library.
“It’s unexpected,” Lesley said. “We are trying to be the force of reason, trying to work through these things using the policy we have in place – review these books and do our due diligence.”
The LGBTQ advocacy group Wyoming Equality said it’s up to parents to decide when their children should have access to such books.
“Maybe the answer is never. If it’s never, that’s fine. But do you get to make that choice for other families?” said the group’s executive director, Sara Burlingame.
The book dispute has “gotten contentious and out of hand” when it may have been resolvable by putting the books among material for adults, said Damsky, the prosecutor.
“Personally, as a parent, I find the material to be just inappropriate for children and disgusting. But as a lawyer I’m sworn to uphold the Constitution and that’s why we are dealing with it with a fine-toothed comb,” Damsky said.
Sisti has been working with Hugh and Susan Bennett, who went to the Campbell County Sheriff ’s Office last week with concerns the five books may have violated state child-sex laws. Sheriff ’s officials reviewed the complaint and referred the case, which was first reported by the Gillette News Record, to prosecutors.
“It’s very challenging to imagine how a child who’s sexually immature, physically immature, if there’s any reasonable purpose for exposing them to sexual behavior that’s far beyond their physical and mental and emotional and intellectual abilities to understand,” Hugh Bennett said.
He called the books “hard-core pornography to children.”
“This Book is Gay,” Sisti pointed out, includes illustrations of male and female genitalia and descriptions of oral and anal sex. But child access to all kinds of material on the internet might be pertinent to the case, suggested Damsky.
“What 9-year-old kid today can’t access Pornhub or whatever they want, you know what I mean?” Damsky said.
The library already faced protests and threats last summer over plans for a performance by a transgender magician. The magician canceled the show due to the threats.
The furor over the magician and the books prompted Wyoming Equality to talk with local officials about the threats and offer support to library staff. Local leaders had left Burlingame hopeful the rancor over the library would tone down, she said.
“It seemed like there was some kind of opportunity to put the brakes on this and can we talk to each other,” Burlingame said. “It seems like the train has jumped the tracks.”