November 19, 2017

Defending Inclusion | Editorial

RebeccaWebEdit2015North Carolina’s adoption of the so-called “bathroom bill” (House Bill 2, also known as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act) on March 23 has been rightly denounced for building bias and discrimination into state law and barring cities from extending protections for transgender individuals. It should go without saying that wholesale bigotry against members of a group is unacceptable and unconstitutional. This legislation is a travesty and an assault on our civil liberties.

The reaction was swift, with organizations, corporations, and big names such as Bruce Springsteen expressing opposition. The protests packed an economic punch: cancelled events, boycotts, and decisions by some companies to take their business elsewhere. (An early tally can be found on the New York Times site.) At press time, North Carolina was projected to lose more than $500 million through 2018 as a result of the bill, according to the Center for American Progress.

Among those protesting were library organizations.

“This legislation is a plain statement of the State of North Carolina’s willingness to permit intolerance and discrimination against GLBTQ citizens,” wrote American Library Association (ALA) president Sari Feldman, Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) president Andrew Medlar, and ALA Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT) chair Peter Coyl in a March 29 joint letter to North Carolina governor Pat McCrory. “House Bill 2 contradicts the fundamental values of the American Library Association (ALA) and undermines civil rights and the fundamental principles upon which libraries are founded.”

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) added a statement on April 12. “The potential impact of these and similar proposed bills is a threat to our patrons, to our employees, and to the core mission of our profession as we endeavor to create safe spaces for open dialogue and opportunities for intellectual, artistic, scientific, historical, and philosophical advancement that will improve our society and world,” it read.

On April 4, the Special Libraries Association (SLA) said it was reconsidering Charlotte as the location for its 2018 conference. And as this column went to press, the ALSC board was convening to determine whether to cancel its institute planned for September in that same city. [On April 18, ALSC announced the decision to cancel.—Ed.] As board members discussed, this is a feasible option because ALSC has the ability to absorb the costs associated with cancellation, as it is not overly reliant on this single source of revenue. The thoughtful comments from the ALSC board made me proud of the rich discourse around these issues occurring in the field.

Another strand of protest came from the kid lit community. Some 269 authors and illustrators of children’s literature cosigned a letter published April 1 via LJ sister publication School Library Journal that referred to HB2 as “reprehensible” and pledged to stand by the young people of North Carolina. “Now more than ever, we stand with you. With all of you,” it read in part. “We will continue to stand with you, to stand for you, and to speak out on your behalf against laws and lawmakers that would deprive you of your rights.”

This resonated for me, as libraries and librarians in North Carolina and other places with similar legislation will need to keep serving their communities despite any boycotts from beyond state lines. As they grapple with how to respond within their institutions (do you make all bathrooms gender neutral, for example?), they must help the individuals who make up their communities respond as well, recognize and avoid groupthink, and for those impacted directly cope with the climate of hostility. It strikes me that libraries are the key to moving forward toward a more inclusive society.

I am appalled that there are so many people in our country who remain fearful of difference and who are seemingly bent on reversing advances in human rights. Enter libraries. Information is the antidote to the fear of difference that drives legislation such as the “bathroom bill.” Information builds insight; fosters empathy through the ability to witness the lives of those oppressed by this and similar bias laws; and fuels the courage to make needed change.

If there is a silver lining here, it can be seen in the broad-based rejection of this effort to embed intolerance in law. The joined voices are a testament, as well, to how far we’ve come in instilling positive, inclusive policy to support the wide-ranging diversity of human experience among us. Let’s make the free society we claim to have a reality for those who have been disenfranchised. It’s up to each of us to make sure we don’t lose ground.

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This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (miller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. Susan Brown says:

    When HB2 was passed, the Chapel Hill (NC) Town Council, along with many other local governments, convened to call for the repeal of the measure. Chapel Hill Public Library – led by our Teen Engagement Coordinator and our Marketing & Communications Manager – seized the opportunity to publicly reaffirm our commitment to diversity.

    They created a compelling message and image that is now posted in nearly every Town facility, from Parks & Rec to Public Works. Here’s a link to the image, which we have shared on Dropbox for anyone to use – https://www.dropbox.com/sh/fgwjhp4vs49q9e2/AAARGtnEhWiPfxUA9fOQIkE5a?dl=0&preview=Words-of-Welcome_HB2.png

    It’s true that libraries are the key to moving forward toward a more inclusive society, and in this NC town, we are lucky to have many other public institutions and entities helping move forward as well.

    – Susan Brown, Chapel Hill Public Library Director

  2. Zev Von Snyder says:

    ALA has taken a strong stand against North Carolina and HB2, but punted for this year’s annual in “Stand Your Ground” Orlando. Too expensive, they said, when the calls came to change the venue away from Orlando to a non-shooty state.

    Do LGBT bathroom issues take precedent over dead minorities? It sure looks that way.

    • I agree with this comment ALA should boycott both states until both sets of discrimination laws are repealed.

      – Will Worthey

    • Franklin H. says:

      Elderly white people love Florida! Not a snowball’s chance in hell ALA leaders will boycott.

  3. Playing a little bit of devil’s advocate here: Why is it okay for performers, groups, conventions, and employers to boycott a state because the person or institution disagrees with that state’s laws; but it’s not okay for performers, groups and businesses to say no to a request that they disagree with?

    • Will Onk says:

      The Devil does not need an advocate.

    • anonymous coward says:

      There is no reason. Let’s let the bigots shout to the rooftops about their hatred- out and open in the public- so we can watch their businesses fail or adapt to the market.

      Will,

      The devil always needs an advocate- otherwise you get the inquisition.

  4. Librarians who are in positions of authority should and must divest their libraries of suppliers who are headquartered in NC until such time as HB2 is off the books. The law is not only discriminatory and a vehicle for hate and fear but serves as a gag act on more forward thinking municipalities in the state.

    • Janet Jenkins says:

      Do you have a list of these companies or are you just saying things that you can’t actually act on?

    • Probably the wrong move. What would you recommend for dealing with a supplier from NC who is supportive of their LGBQT employees and is against its own state’s law? You would stomp the chick to kill the cock. Your library patrons might also suffer as you hastily take away things of a quality and price that serves them well in hopes of finding a similar supplier in another state. This would have us lurching around spending resources on changing vendors while leaving the important business of serving our patrons undone or less done. While we are spinning in the dust punishing businesses that happen to be based in a state that passed a bad law, new bad laws will emerge from the states of your new suppliers. Instead of all this, just make your library as accessible and open and welcoming as it can be, maybe?

  5. Withheld says:

    “The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) added a statement on April 12. ‘The potential impact of these and similar proposed bills is a threat to our patrons, to our employees, and to the core mission of our profession as we endeavor to create safe spaces for open dialogue and opportunities for intellectual, artistic, scientific, historical, and philosophical advancement that will improve our society and world,’ it read.”

    That’s pretty ironic — ARL wants to create “safe spaces” by opening ladies’ rooms to males based on their “gender identity”? What of the women who currently view ladies rooms as “safe spaces” and see their right to privacy as being violated by having biological men entering these areas?

    What is a librarian supposed to do, when a female patron comes screaming out of the ladies’ room that there’s a man in there?

    This is a certified mess born of political correctness and a gross lack of common sense. The only real solution is to make all restrooms single occupancy with locks on the door. Short of that, keep the biological women and men in the rooms designated for them.

    Oh, and ALA… Once again, stay out of politics. Not everyone in our profession is a flaming liberal, y’know?

    • Above, the commenter writes: “What is a librarian supposed to do, when a female patron comes screaming out of the ladies’ room that there’s a man in there?”

      That may be a tough moment for all involved, but this is not a new phenomenon — it may happen more frequently in the decades ahead, but gender transition didn’t just get invented in 2016. I remember a distant cousin transitioning in rural Mississippi in the early 1980s — he probably had to go to Jackson or New Orleans for the treatments, I don’t know; but anyway, there’s a history to this.

      ‘Lo, listen!: when anyone comes screaming out of a bathroom, you handle it with as much calm as you can muster, you sit the parties down together if they will sit together, and you work it out with generosity of spirit and good humor — because you are a public servant, and a steward of the common good. Screamers aren’t automatically right (or wrong). It is the case that transgendered patrons have been using the restroom of their choice discreetly all this time, are doing so right now, and will continue to do so in future. If someone is screaming or upset and wants to elevate the matter to change policy, then you and your team have to talk about that, again with your eyes on what looks to be the best common good. It may be the case that the screamer in the example shouldn’t have been peeking at her fellow restroom-goer. But if the screamer herself was treated indiscreetly, the offender has to be taken to task. Most grown people are going to be chill and use common sense, we trust.

      S/he also writes: “This is a certified mess born of political correctness and a gross lack of common sense. The only real solution is to make all restrooms single occupancy with locks on the door. Short of that, keep the biological women and men in the rooms designated for them.”

      I agree that single occupancy unisex restrooms may be a good way to go, but it is expensive. I disagree that we should make it our business to keep “biological women and men” separate. People are free (should be free) to do as they wish so long as they don’t harm others. I don’t think that I am any more harmed by a woman using the men’s restroom as I am by other men using the men’s restroom, and I don’t think that a transgendered woman or man harms me by using the restroom I’m using.

      You know what does harm you, me, and all of us? People who don’t flush. Please flush, people. And please wash your hands, men and women and people who stand elsewhere on the gender spectrum.

      Wash your hands with soap.