Advocates Protest NJ Library Censorship with Public Reading

Jim Burroway

August 4th, 2010

In a follow-up to last week’s story about the Burlington County (New Jersey) Library System pulling the rare, out-of-print LGBT coming-out anthology Revolutionary Voices from its shelves while circumventing the normal review process, local LGBT advocates are responding vigorously to the action. The Register-News reports that local advocates are staging a public reading of Revolutionary Voices and are calling on both the public library and the Rancocas Valley Regional High School library (which removed the book earlier this year) to restore the book to its rightful place.

When asked by a local branch librarian why the book was being removed, library system director Gail Sweet called the book “child pornography.” She now claims that the emails (PDF: 11 pages/296 KB) in which she said that was meant to be “facetious.” If true, this means that she didn’t take questions about the book’s removal seriously. But that’s only if it were true. All too often, any material that presents LGBT people in a neutral-to-positive light are tagged as “pornographic” by people with anti-gay animus. LGBT advocates vigorously challenge that label:

Melanie Yan, a North Hanover resident who graduated from Northern Burlington County Regional High School in June, is an actor with “Revolutionary Readings,” a group dedicated to reading passages from the book aloud. She said she knows a number of people who fall under the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) umbrella and so takes the removal personally.

“I have to really, really feel strongly about not only the issue of censorship but homosexual rights and being able to express yourself through writing,” she said.

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous they banned it for ‘pornographic reasons’ when every single piece that’s read (in the show) is just so beautiful and so moving,” she added. “Nothing about them can even be called pornographic for any reason.”

Brandon Monokian is the group’s founder and director. A graduate of RVRHS, he said he saw similar material in his time there and was upset the high school, and then the county, decided to remove this one book from their shelves. He said he thought it was targeted because it features LGBT content.

The group has established a web site, and the next readings are scheduled for Aug. 19 in Montclair and Aug. 22 in Lumberton. The ACLU is still evaluating the case and hasn’t decided whether to act. Meanwhile, Sweet contends that while they “always willing to reconsider things,” she called the library’s attempt to withdraw the books without public notice “a nonevent that has become one.”

Maybe Sweet will consider including the book in its annual display for Banned Books Week.

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