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Right-Wing Oconee Group Calls for Removing LGBTQ Books From Library

About 200 people came to an Oconee County library board meeting for a challenge to an LGBTQ-themed young adult book. Credit: Lee Shearer

Culture war came to Oconee County last week as members of the right-wing Moms for Liberty and its supporters demanded an end to library programs supporting LGBTQ youth and children, and a ban on juvenile books dealing with such subjects.

The only actual issue facing the Oconee County Library Board of Trustees was much more limited: A community member had asked that a particular book, Flamer, by Mike Curato, be reclassified from its “Young Adult” status and moved into the adult stacks because of the book’s sexual content and off-color language. The graphic novel depicts the early teen experiences of a bullied gay Catholic Boy Scout.

A committee of the library board had met earlier, reviewed the book and endorsed the complaint, and the full board agreed in its July 10 quarterly meeting, voting unanimously that the book should be taken out of Young Adult, a broad category roughly encompassing youth 12–18, and put into the adult book stacks.

A crowd of more than 200 who overflowed a small meeting room in the Watkinsville library had broader issues in mind than the shelving location of one book. Nearly 20 people addressed the board in a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, including Julie Mauck, chair of the Oconee County chapter of Moms for Liberty, a far-right extremist organization, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Formed in 2021 to oppose COVID health measures such as vaccine and mask mandates, Moms for Liberty campaigns against teaching about issues such as LGBTQ rights, race and ethnicity. Some local chapters have allied with far-right groups such as the Proud Boys and QAnon.

Library programs such as its Prism group, a teen club open to all but meant to be a safe place for LGBTQ young people, are actually recruiting tools—even for pedophilia, according to Mauck. “Why should a small-town library be participating in a gender ideology movement and recruiting our children? How did that happen here in conservative Oconee County?” Mauck asked. “The sexualization and recruitment of children is a plague on our nation with its roots in Marxism. These are centuries-old Marxist tactics.”

Prism should be shut down, the youth program librarian should be prohibited from having contact with children, and juvenile and children’s books with LGBTQ themes removed, according to Mauck and some other speakers. “It is not the public library’s job to introduce or discuss any topic about sexual orientation with any child, ever,” said one.

Though many in the crowd cheered on Mauck and other like-minded speakers, a clear majority of the crowd had come to support the library, some jeering and booing Mauck’s comments.

Mauck, a five-year Oconee resident, was soundly defeated in the Republican Party primary for a seat on the Oconee County Board of Education last year. Mauck has also lobbied the school board to allow public school students to take off-campus non-credit religious instruction during the school day through LifeWise Academy, an Ohio-based nonprofit that promises to take students through the Christian Bible during five years of instruction, at no cost to students.

Lee Shearer Julie Mauck (left) thinks the Oconee County Library should shut down programs supporting LGBTQ youth.

One speaker who passionately opposed the Moms for Liberty agenda was military veteran Marie Williams. “I swore to defend the Constitution of the United States, and I swore to uphold freedom. I meant it for everybody,” Williams said.

“That’s not freedom. That’s a perversion of freedom,” Williams said of the Moms for Liberty agenda.

“Inclusion is not pedophiles. That is ridiculous. That is a deliberate perversion,” she said, citing “interlopers” and “an agitator who came to this county to stir up division.”

“I don’t want to be on the national news banning books,” Williams said, her voice rising in emotion. “You know who wants to? The interloper, who wants attention.” Most of the crowd cheered.

“I think we should leave the programming of the library to the professionals,” said another speaker opposing the Moms for Liberty aims.

“It’s essential to realize that access to literature is a fundamental right,” said another speaker. “A public library is a space for all members of a community.”

Chair Mark Campbell said at the beginning of the meeting that in the interest of time, he’d allow only the first 10 of the 60 who’d signed up to speak, and only Oconee residents. Eventually he allowed nearly 20 to address the board—relatively evenly divided, though like the audience, more spoke in opposition to the Moms for Liberty agenda.

In the days before the meeting, reports had circulated that library staffers had been abused and displays were damaged over activities and library displays during last month’s Gay Pride month, but that wasn’t so, said Oconee Branch Manager James Mitchell. Some patrons had objected, but not to the level of abuse, he said. “No one who came and talked to me crossed that line,” he said.

Meanwhile, more challenges are on the way. The Oconee library board is scheduled to decide on at least two more requests to remove books for younger readers at its next quarterly meeting.

The Watkinsville library is a branch of the Athens Regional Library System, which includes 11 branches in Clarke, Oconee, Madison and Oglethorpe counties and the cities of Lavonia and Royston. A regional citizen board oversees the system, which is part of the state public library system, which in turn is administered by the University System of Georgia and its governor-appointed Board of Regents.