Editor, The Times:
My family has enjoyed being active in the Pierce County Library for many years. However, during 2020 and COVID-19 restrictions when the library doors were closed to the public, it seemed to undergo some rather drastic changes. Our regional library system includes Pierce, Ware, Bacon, Appling and Clinch counties. In a short period of time, there were many new hires, including regional director, branch managers and day-to-day library staff. The changes that followed have been very concerning.
The Ware Co. Library displayed a banner of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ+) flags over the checkout counter. There were multiple flags that represented different forms of sexuality, such as transgenderism, nonbinary, intersex, asexual, bisexual, pansexual, lesbian, gay, etc. These flags were put up for display in 2021 and remained up until October of 2022 and are slated to return at certain times each year. At one point there was a LGBTQ+ themed Christmas tree displayed in the library that had rainbow ornaments patrons were encouraged to take home with them. The Waycross library also currently has a LGBTQ+ book club that meets each month. There is also a LGBTQ+ book club for children ages 13-17 which meets to read and discuss books that explore sexuality. These children can consider their sexual desires and choose to join the LGBTQ+ book club.
The Pierce County Library had a LGBTQ+ Pride Book display in 2022 until a concerned citizen rallied the community and staff moved the location of the display to the adult graphic novel section of the library. The Bacon County Library also had a LGBTQ+ display in 2022. During a regional board meeting, we witnessed a woman boldly entering the men’s restroom and it has been reported that men have entered the women’s restroom as well. The board members have been made aware of adults entering restrooms of the opposite sex to which one regional board member issued an email making an argument that men should be able to use the girls’ restroom if they identify as a woman and vice versa.
For the past six months, my family and many other concerned citizens have followed the proper channels to attempt to address these concerns including meeting with Regional Director Martha Powers-Jones, addressing the Pierce County Library Board of Trustees, the Ware County Library Board and the Okefenokee Regional Library System Board. We have been very clear and concise in requesting that the regional board make a policy at our libraries prohibiting displays regarding sexuality and implementing a policy that clearly states patrons and staff must use the restroom corresponding to their biological sex. In October, the board voted to temporarily take down the LGBTQ+ flag display acknowledging that it would return at certain times during the year. Waycross Branch Manager, Sherry Tanner, stated that there would be a time of grieving for her staff because a large majority of them align with the LGBTQ+ community.
After six months of requesting these two simple policies (no displays about sexuality and use the restroom of your biological sex), no such policies have been made. These policies are on the agenda for the May 1 regional board meeting. However, according to Powers-Jones, there is a new procedure that states the board will only hear two topics per meeting. Therefore, the public has been denied to speak on sexuality displays and restroom policies at the meeting. The two topics the board will hear public comment on are “censorship and religious overreach” and “community/library events/activities/book clubs”.
Concerned citizens, please contact your city officials, county commissioners and library board members to express your alarm and recommend policy changes.
If you are at all able, please plan to attend the Regional Board meeting at 4 p.m. Monday, May 1 in the Waycross Library.