NJ Library Removes LGBT Book, Calling It “Child Pornography”
July 28th, 2010
The public library system for Burlington County, New Jersey, has ordered that all copies of Amy Sonnie’s Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology, which the library director labeled as “child pornography,” be removed from library shelves.
Library director Gail Sweet ordered the book’s removal without having followed a formal book challenge process. Instead, she acted on an informal complaint from a member of the local chapter of Fox News commentator Glenn Beck’s 9.12 Project. Emails (PDF: 11 pages/296 KB) obtained by American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey show that the complaint was made by Project member Beverly Marinelli, who is also credited with persuading Rancocas Valley Regional High School to ban the same book in May.
The book, which Marinelli describes as “pervasively vulgar, obscene, and inappropriate,” is a collection of essays by LGBT youth describing their struggles with coming out to themselves and their families. According to a description on Amazon.com:
While the work is wildly diverse (one of my favorites involves a mother who bakes a cake to help her queer daughter celebrate Ellen DeGeneres’s coming-out), all of it speaks to the isolation and fear of being queer and young. A boy lies awake at night practicing to be more masculine. An intersexed gay boy comes out to his high school. A butch girl tells of years of daily bashing. Fear, though, is not the overriding emotional tone to this collection. The contributors exhibit a belief in themselves, a well-placed youthful confidence that speaks as loudly as the most poignant writing. Their determination to survive and thrive despite a homophobic society comes through loud and clear. It’s the perfect antidote to adult cynicism about youth.
The School Library Journal reports that the Burlington County Library System has a formal process for removing books from the library:
BCLS’s formal process for handling controversial materials, as found in documents obtained by the ACLU, states that patrons must fill out a Request for Reconsideration form, and then a “committee of staff selectors as designated by the Library Director will review the material in question.”
…In the case of BCLS’s removal of Revolutionary Voices, an informal, rather than formal written request appears to have been made. In addition, Sweet’s email indicates that the committee was made up of her and one other person. Assistant director Margaret Delaney confirmed that she is the “Marge” mentioned in Sweet’s email as also recommending the book’s removal, but she’s not allowed to talk about the situation.
A key player in circumventing the formal process appears to be Patrick Delany, a member of the library commission. He has also been identified by the National Coalition Against Censorship as being a member of the same local 9.12 group as Beverly Marinelli, the woman who lodged the informal complaint.
That informal complaint from Marinelli apparently went first to Delany. According to a letter dated March 16 (PDF: 480 KB/5 pages) from library Director Sweet to Marinelli, Sweet wrote that “Library Commissioner Patrick Delany indicated at our meeting this morning that you have contacted him with concerns about several books we have in the library system.” Sweet also provided Marinelli with a copy of the Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials form and information on the formal process for requesting the removal of library material.
But it appears that the formal process was never followed. According to the emails obtained by the ACLU, Sweet wrote to Marinelli on April 27 that:
The Library Commissioners supported our staff recommendation to remove “Revolutionary Voices” from our shelves. As the copies that are checked out return, we will take them out of circulation.
On May 3, Sweet ordered that the the remaining copies should “totally disappear”:
We need to pull “Revolutionary Voices” by Amy Sonnie from our shelves. There are still two requests. How can we grab the books so that they never, ever get back into ccirculation. [sic] Copies need to totally disappear (as in not a good idea to send copies to the book sale) .
A later email dated May 24 from Sweet to a branch librarian clarified that the commission “supported our decision,” but “[t]here was no official challenge, no actual vote by the commissioners.” When the same branch librarian asked why the book was being removed, Sweet responded on May 25 with a two-word email: “Child pornography.”
Delany is also a committee member of the Lumberton Township Council in Burlington County. In the May 4 minutes (PDF: 4 pages/32 KB), Delany and another official planned to meet with officials from Rancocas Valley Regional High School that same evening. The purpose of Delany’s attendance at that meeting isn’t stated, but May 4 also happens to coincide with the school board’s decision (PDF: 160 KB/19 pages) to remove Revolutionary Voices from the school library by a unanimous vote (with one abstention). Two weeks later, the Township government approved an appropriation for the high school’s 2010-2011 budget (PDF: 36KB/5 pages). All of this was concurrent with the public library’s removal of Revolutionary Voices. Messages obtained by the ACLU from the school district (PDF: 164 KB/3 pages) indicate that “the 9-12 group will eventually visit every HS in [the] county.”
Beverly Marinelli, it turns out, had also served as a Lumberton Township Committeewoman from 2005 to 2008, while Delany was the township’s mayor. Delany endorsed Marinelli during the 2005 election. Marinelli has also been active in the tea party movement.
[Timothy:] An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer provides the motivation for Marinelli’s request:
The path to the book’s ban at Rancocas Valley began last year when Beverly Marinelli, a widely known activist in Lumberton who joined 9.12 last year, was poking around online and found a list of books recommended by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
“We decided to see if these books were here, and, lo and behold, they were,” Marinelli said. “There’s stuff that’s appropriate for children and stuff that’s not. People wish to distract from the real issue by going into the 9.12 thing.”
It would appear that Marinelli’s objections lie entirely in her anti-gay prejudice.