Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fear and Library Web pages

Hi everyone,

A few weeks ago, a local group of coconuts discovered that the WB Library webpage contained a list of books for LGBT youngsters. Shocked to discover that their sense of sexual orientation no longer matched reality, they filed a formal complaint.

And so.

Saturday's column.

Library Web page complaints reveal fears

A local group of parents filed a complaint with the West Bend Memorial Library last week because the library has a Web page listing books for young gay and lesbian patrons. The complaint will be discussed at the Library Board's monthly meeting in March.

Public library systems in Appleton, Madison and even Shorewood have links for age-appropriate literature of this kind and it is standard, established practice for libraries to provide coming-of-age literature for young people, without making value judgments about sexual orientation.

Admittedly, complaining about values we don’t share is apple pie American – it’s certainly one of my favorite pastimes – but the Supreme Court has already weighed in on whether such literature can be removed from public school libraries – at least with regard to books, if not to Web pages describing books.

In Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982) the bench wrote, “In brief, we hold that local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’ West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S., at 642.”

In a nutshell, you can’t ask that certain books be removed from library shelves simply because those books violate your own religious worldview. What if, for instance, a local majority of ELCA Lutherans asked that all Missouri Synod Lutheran writings be removed from the library? How would that go over? You get the idea. In America, alas, we have to learn to cope with the ideas of our fellow citizens, even when we don’t like ’em.

By a remarkable coincidence, just after the newspaper ran its story about these moral crusaders for sexual conformity, I received some e-mail from the first guy I ever knew who was gay. I was part of a conspiracy in high school to keep him from getting beaten up.

Now, being gay in Alabama in the 1970s was dangerous, but my friend had camouflaged himself brilliantly by “dating” one of the cutest girls in school. The slack-jawed red-neck bullies who would have beaten him to a pulp on a daily basis never saw through this cleverly staged misdirection and, to her credit, the girl played her part to the hilt. Things got complicated, of course, when she and I realized we liked each other. We went out secretly during the last half of senior year, but could never be seen together in public because it might have compromised his cover story.

All of this is funnier now than it was at the time, but things aren’t a lot safer for gay or lesbian high school kids today. Violence, bullying and harassment are the rule in schools across the country today. According to GLSEN’s 2003 National School Climate Survey, 39 percent of all LGBT students report being verbally or physically assaulted, often with a weapon, and, more telling, nearly one out of three LGBT students skipped school in the past month because they were simply too afraid to go.

Back to my friend in 1975. One night at a party, where the three of us could hang out together in relative safety, I finally asked him when he had decided to be gay. He laughed and fired back “when did you decide to be straight?” I said I’d never made a conscious decision – at some point my interest in model trains and Little League had been replaced by an interest in girls that filled, for practical purposes, every waking moment. “Ditto,” he said, “except for the girls.”

That was good to hear at 17. Still is.

The folks complaining about our library Web pages worry about exposing young people to literature with homosexual themes because they believe sexual orientation is a choice: as if deciding your gender preference is like ordering it off a menu, as if choosing to be gay is no different from ordering soup instead of the coleslaw. But if sexual orientation were a choice, then why would young men and women pick the one dish guaranteed to make their lives a living hell? Because they don’t.

I wonder if it’s true that the things we’re afraid of in others are the things we fear most about ourselves?

Can anyone name the 60's cult movie from which I stole this closing line?



Anonymous said...

Well said.

Kris Beaver

Anonymous said...

Interesting topic.

I agree that people are probably born gay in many cases, but I don't think that necessarily means gay people should act out on their feelings. Our feelings, emotions, and natural inclinations can often lead us in the wrong direction.

A similar example of this would be the person who is born with a genetic inclination to alcoholism or addictive behaviors. No one would encourage such a person to embrace the bottle just because they were born with a natural inclination to drinking.

Homosexual behavior should be evaluated in the light of these questions: What is sex for? What is the meaning of sex? What does sexual intercourse express at a deeper level? Can sex really be meaningful if it is inherently and perpetually divorced from its procreative aspect, as is the case in homosexual relations?

Mpeterson said...

Lot's of gay people have children. Lots of heterosexual people have sex for reasons completely unrelated to reproduction. Bonobos use sex as a component in their social networking behaviour in ways unrelated to reproduction -- so do humans.

Gender preference doesn't look like alcoholism any more than constantly root for a losing Packer team does.

I'd be toast if that were true -- so would the rest of the state. :^)

So, what if we were answer your questions a bit differently?

For? Sex is a natural response to feelings of intimacy.

Meaning? Sex is the expression of that intimacy physically.

Deeper level? See above.

Can it be meaningful divorced from its procreative aspect?

Lots of people have perfectly meaningful sex without ever thinking about children -- some of those people are gay and some are straight. Are you saying that all of *your* sexual behaviours are structured around procreation? You never simply enjoy the intimacy with your partner or spouse for its own sake?

Of course, St. Augustine would argue that your position is the right one.

But what about the simpler point that America is still a free country and we have no right imposing our religious views on others?


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Dr. Peterson in this case. If we are to shun sex that cannot create a child, then we must do away with things like vasectomies, tubal ligations,birth control, etc. If one member of a couple is sterile, does that mean they shouldn't be sexually active? From what that person says, once a woman reaches menopause, she should abstain from sex because her purpose in the act of sex is no longer able to be fulfilled.

Mpeterson said...

... of course, that should read "Gender preference doesn't look like alcoholism any more than constantly rooting for a losing Packer team does." Blogger has yet to allow the technology to edit comments after the fact.

Anonymous said...


In bringing up addictive behaviors, I was only trying to point out that there are times when our natural inclinations do not always lead us in the right direction. (Did you have to remind me of the Packers? I was just beginning to forget...) :-)

It's not my intention to force my own beliefs on others here or in the library, but I do have a personal principled view against homosexual acts because they do not seem to be in keeping with the natural moral law. It would also seem to me, and a few others, that contraceptive acts within straight marital sex are also contrary to the natural law. I hold no hard feelings towards gays or married straight people who contracept. I am friends with gays and straight contraceptors alike. (True story.) :-)

"Meaningful sex" is probably not "meaningful" just because you or I say it is in this or that situation. We would have to compare homosexual acts to the objective natural order in a more rigorous philosophical way to determine if they were really meaningful or virtuous in a serious way. That argumentation is way beyond the scope of this blog, though. (Thank goodness because I'm too tired.) :-)

Regarding the library, I would never want to force my views on anyone. People can read whatever they want to.

Toodles. :-)

justanothercow said...

This was a very good column - it's a type of issue that can really get all blown up - I must admit that the articles I saw prior to this column got my blood pressure raised a little bit - the thought of our library facilitating the aggregation of information about this topic all in one place for everyone to see. Your "cool" and well-reasoned perspective on the issue had a calming effect. You have reminded me that it doesn't have to be that big a deal. Hope you don't get savaged too much by letters to the editor. Although I would like to see what "family value guys" such as Mark Belling or Glenn Grothman have to say about this.

I must be about your age, have been a life-long resident of this area. You live long enough, and you find out that sometimes people you know quite well are not what you thought they were, and you find that makes absolutely no difference in your perception of them as fine human beings. I have always felt some empathy for people who can't "just be themselves" & have to go to great lengths to maintain an image that doesn't upset the sensibilities of the people they interact with, be it family, peers, friends, etc.

Good column - keep on keeping on!

West Bend Citizen Advocate said...

My turn.

Since I have been elevated to coconut tree status, I felt it was time to lend my comments here (nice column today, by the way, Mark - REALLY!) before one of us fall from the tree and hit you on the head.

You see, while we object to the overt indoctrination of the gay agenda into our community youth, we are not asking for the removal of the books. You are mistaken.

We have only asked for two books to be removed or, at the very least, placed in the "adult" section of our library because of explicit pornographic language (both heterosexual AND homosexual, by the way).

What we are calling for is a BALANCE of books on the subject. Since I am an advocate of Free Speech rights, I could hardly support wiping out sections of books in a library (even if it were possible, which it isn't). Unfortunately, (and this is strictly my opinion, but check it out for yourself - I believe your literary standards would affirm) the homosexual YA books are, for the most part, poorly-written romanticizing pieces befitting of a soap opera dialogue. Nothing even worthy of being called "informational." They simply revere the statements "there are a lot of us out there, we are all discriminated against, really good friends will stick by us and maybe go to bed with us."

Moving right along...

The ALA Policy, which our WB Library adopts, states the following:

The American Library Association stringently and unequivocally maintains that libraries and librarians have an obligation to resist efforts that systematically exclude materials dealing with any subject matter, including sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation.


We celebrate and preserve our democratic society by making available the widest possible range of viewpoints, opinions and ideas.....


.......ALA encourages all American Library Association chapters to take active stands against all legislative or other government attempts to proscribe materials related to sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation; and encourages all libraries to acquire and make available materials representative of all the people in our society.

We are requesting that the WB Public Library attain - at the very minimum - BALANCE in the selections that the libraries carry on the homosexual issue in the YA Zone, as well as in the outermost parts of our library, adult section included. There is no logical or common-sense reason why taxpayer-funded public libraries should make available every latest "gay"-affirming book - including those designed to open up young minds to the false and dangerous notion that homosexuality is normal (Kris would agree) - while NOT carrying faith-based and ex-"gay" books that oppose a pro-homosexual idealogy.

You see? It's that simple. BALANCE, Mark. BALANCE.

We believe our library should be offering appropriate, wholesome literature to our youth, despite the obvious pursuit of the illegitimate goal of transforming the views of other people's children on the contentious issue of homosexuality.

We expect our public library to protect children and empower parents to decide what their children can read.

Heidi ho, Mark. Thanks for the vent time.

Mpeterson said...

Ahh, well I apologize if I've misrepresented anything you've done. I was going based solely on what I read on your blog and in the paper.

I think I was thrown off by your request to have books removed from the list because they were out of line with your religious view of what's appropriate -- rather than your request for a 'balance'.

I was also thrown by your assertions about some kind of "gay agenda"... Truthfully Ginny, I spent a large part of my life around the most radical kind of gay and lesbian people you can imagine -- some of whom exhibited the very worst kind of risky behaviours, the kind that got them killed during the early AIDS epidemic --and I can't think of one of them who was interested in "indoctrinating" young people into becoming gay... since, from even the most radical point of view, you can't *decide* to be gay.

Since you can't decide to be gay, there's no point in trying to make (whatever that would mean) other people to be gay either.

So, I'm afraid the "gay agenda" thing sounds to my ears like a "religious agenda" to squelch any sign of a way of living you find morally objectionable.

I will, in fact, defend your right to do that, but I also get to fight you on it when it interferes with the rights granted to everyone under the constitution.

The idea of balance here sounds to me, again, like the argument that science text books should be 'balanced' by presenting religious views, like intelligent design or creationism, rather than scientific views in biology classes. It isn't balanced when you simply twist up the data to make a point determined for you, not by observing anything in the world, but by your preexisting religious beliefs.

But again, I'll defend your rights to fall on whoever's head you like.

Frankly Ginny, homosexuality is contentious for fewer and fewer people every day. You may believe it's a propaganda war. My sense is that it's simply common sense.

Be well. Have a wonderful weekend. Hope to see you on Tuesday.


Anonymous said...

"Since you can't decide to be gay, there's no point in trying to make (whatever that would mean) other people to be gay either."

How very Christian (or Hegelian, if you like foreplay) to make sexuality in to such an inherent trait.

in the end i believe it is not worth getting that worked up about, really.

but then i'm straight. or am i?

Mpeterson said...

but are you inherently straight?


Anonymous said...

uwc has never exactly had a thriving gay community. never has never will. kids get smart about the homophobic nature of this community and leave before college starts. they head off to campuses that they feel are more open-minded, or to big cities that encourage difference and diversity.

Anonymous said...

it's clear from the discussion you had in high school with your gay friend that you both did have at least one inherent quality.

a kind of pollyanna-ish, hardy boys, gather-round-the-campfire, boys own adventure vision of sexuality as something very simple and clear.

that kind of binary male/female,gay/straight,yes/no thinking does make it easier to get along in middle america, id imagine

you and your friend share something; you have no torment or confusion because you live in the categorical. It is easy for you to identify yourselves sexually, and you cling to those identities in turn.

however, there is a certain freedom and liberation, as well as a solidarity, that you can never know simply because you are too CERTAIN of THINGS.

Mpeterson said...

Anonymous 1: it's part of our job to help them get out. So to speak.

Anonymous 2: it would not be accurate to assume I think I know anything with certainty. And I'm trying to work out any trace of happy Hardy Boys vacations in my friends who died during the AIDs epidemic in the early 80's... I'm afraid I'm unable to find any there.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous 1: it's part of our job to help them get out. So to speak."

Can we stop beating around the bush, please. Either you are coxing gay students out of their straight shells, or (as i believe) you are making them gay. it's pure semantics, and NOT logic, on your part.

either way, the social conservatives do indeed have something to be worried about, and i have something to flaunt... in you face. (the fact that you are SO wrong.)

As for point # 2 about your friends who died of AIDS. that is just pathetic. Don't assume you are any more aware than anybody else about how devastating AIDS was (and still is if you can't afford the damn drugs.)

oh, and I have some more news for you. the homosexual community in this country has changed a lot in 3 or 4 decades.

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