August 14, 2017

North Carolina Librarians, Library Associations React to HB2

Words of Welcome poster from Chapel Hill Public Library

Words of Welcome poster from Chapel Hill Public Library

From the moment the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Public Facilities Privacy and Security act, also known as HB2, reaction was forceful and articulate. Educators, librarians, and library leaders from public, academic, and school libraries and library organizations across the country, for whom inclusivity is a crucial part of their institutions’ mission, added their voices criticizing the bill’s passage and supporting those it affects.

HB2 repeals all local GLBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances throughout North Carolina, putting into place a statewide policy that would, among other provisions, ban transgender individuals from using public bathrooms that do not correspond to the sex on their birth certificates. The bill was initiated specifically to head off a transgender-inclusive, nondiscrimination ordinance passed by the city of Charlotte on February 22, which would have protected transgender people who use public restrooms based on their gender identity and provided broad protections against discrimination in public accommodations throughout the city. The ordinance would have gone into effect April 1.

In a special one-day session convened on March 23, HB2 was passed and then signed into law that night by Gov. Pat McCrory (R-NC). The bill passed the state House 82–26 and state Senate 32–0—with Senate Democrats walking out of the session in protest without casting a vote.

Executive Order 93, released by Governor McCrory on April 12 to address the bill, added some protection for gay and transgender people but did not alter the provision on bathroom use, nor did it restore cities’ rights to expand on state laws and establish local non-discrimination ordinances impacting the private sector. On May 9 Governor McCrory, Senate leader Phil Berger, and House Speaker Tim Moore filed two lawsuits against the United States, asking the court to declare that HB2 was not discriminatory; on the same day the Department of Justice filed a suit against North Carolina, charging that HB2 violates federal civil rights law.

A SWIFT RESPONSE

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the ARL Diversity and Inclusion Committee published a statement opposing the bill, which declared, “The Association joins the chorus of opposition to this legislation—higher education associations, equal rights organizations, those in K–12 education, college and university administrations, businesses, and many others—that opens the door to discriminatory practices toward historically marginalized populations.”

American Library Association (ALA) president Sari Feldman issued a joint letter with ALA’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT) chair Peter D. Coyl and Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) president Andrew Medlar to Governor McCrory recommending that he urge the repeal of HB2. The letter read, in part, “House Bill 2 contradicts the fundamental values of [ALA] and undermines civil rights and the fundamental principles upon which libraries are founded. Because libraries are a microcosm of the larger society, they play an important and unique role in the communities that they serve and must seek to provide an inclusive environment where all are treated with respect and dignity.”

Rodney Lippard, president of the North Carolina Library Association, posted an open letter to Governor McCrory and members of the General Assembly expressing concern for the state’s library and information science schools. “Our librarians, staff, and faculty work with a variety of other professionals and with students who identify as LGBTQI…. We are concerned that HB2 may interfere with those students and employees living fully engaged lives and serving local communities. Also, we are troubled that the national reaction to HB2 may interfere with libraries and library schools recruiting and retaining the best and brightest people.”

Library Orgs vote with their feet—and dollars

In addition to speaking out, a number of library organizations with meetings or conferences scheduled to take place in North Carolina are looking to take their business elsewhere.

In early April, ALSC met with members from GLBTRT at the Public Library Association (PLA) 2016 Conference in Denver to discuss ALSC’s upcoming September 2016 National Institute to be held in Charlotte. The two groups discussed possible actions, and on April 18 the ALSC Board of Directors voted to cancel the conference.

School Library Journal spoke with Medlar about the decision on April 25. Medlar explained, “While [the decision reflected] ALSC’s core values and envisioned future, this wasn’t just an abstract issue. It very directly and personally affected members and some potential attendees. For me, the most important issue is about respecting members and not putting them in a position where they feel unsafe or uncomfortable, [including] going to the bathroom, a basic human function.” The reaction to the cancellation, he added, has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

As an alternative to the conference, which takes place every two years and represents more than two years of planning, ALSC plans to hold a one-day workshop immediately before the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta on January 20–24, 2017. “We have heard loud and clear from our members that this new law of the land in North Carolina is not compatible with ALSC’s core values, particularly those of inclusiveness and respect,” said Medlar in a statement. “At the same time we strongly and proudly support our members in North Carolina and the commitment they have to serving all members of their communities, and we will continue our transformative work together to create a better future for children through libraries.” ALSC has promised to refund all registration fees in full.

In a statement on the GLBTRT website, Coyl said, “I am proud of ALSC for having the courage to have the conversation, and in the end, making the decision they thought was right.”

The Board of Directors of the Special Libraries Association (SLA) is also reconsidering the commitment to host its 2018 conference in Charlotte, and has given the state until May 25 to repeal the law before it makes a decision. SLA board chair Tom Rink said in a statement, “SLA stands strongly in support of diversity and inclusion practices in both privately-held libraries and companies as well as in the various municipalities and states in which special libraries operate. We are deeply opposed to any laws that permit or even give the appearance of tolerating discrimination.” The SLA conference will be held in Philadelphia this June, and in Phoenix in 2017.

The Academic Preservation Trust Spring 2016 meeting, which was to take place in Raleigh, has been moved to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. In a statement, program director Chip German said, “At this point in our history, we recognize the need to demonstrate through our collaborative work that we remain committed to our preservation mission regardless of moments of political challenge for our institutions. Our discussion of this point has been abstract in the past. Today it feels substantially more concrete. It is not too much of a stretch to imagine that the spirit behind the recent North Carolina law could also put at risk the scholarly record and cultural heritage generated by the targeted community.”

David Singleton, director of libraries at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Charlotte, reported that its two-day May workshop for national library marketing and communications professionals was receiving cancellations from the Seattle and Portland area, and some librarians have not registered because of city or state travel bans in reaction to HB2.

At least 20 conventions and events scheduled to take place in Charlotte had changed their plans as of mid-April, with another 36 identifying as “hesitant,” noted the Charlotte Observer. The state also stands to lose $4.5 billion in Title IX federal funding, which applies to public schools and postsecondary institutions “as well as charter schools, for-profit schools, libraries, and museums,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

UNC DIVIDED

Margaret Spellings, president of the University of North Carolina (UNC) system, which comprises 17 campuses across the state, announced in an April 5 memo that UNC would comply with the act. Her statement read in part, “University institutions must require every multiple-occupancy bathroom and changing facility to be designated for and used only by persons based on their biological sex.”

But an April 19 statement signed by the chancellor; executive vice chancellor and provost; vice chancellor for student affairs; and vice chancellor for workforce strategy, equity, and engagement at UNC Chapel Hill noted that Spellings’s memo was intended as guidance only, rather than an endorsement. Their statement added, “We have been asked how the University intends to ‘enforce’ this provision of the law. As noted in the memorandum, the law does not contain any provisions concerning enforcement. We have added and will continue to add public gender-neutral single-use restrooms and changing facilities throughout our campus and we will be adding additional signage.”

IN THE SCHOOLS

School librarians, who are responsible for a particularly vulnerable population, are understandably concerned about how HB2 will impact the teenagers they serve. Some, such as Katie Darty, media coordinator at North Buncombe High School in Weaverville, report business as usual and hope it remains that way. “We have a small LGBT student group at our high school that [was] proactive and requested a separate bathroom at the beginning of the year (before HB2) and they were provided with a single stall faculty bathroom,” Darty told LJ. “Now with HB2, I feel fortunate that our school has already provided an extra bathroom for our students; I hate the idea of any of any student feeling targeted because of this bill.”

Darty also noted that a number of authors have pulled out of local readings, most recently Sherman Alexie, who was scheduled to hold a book signing at local Asheville bookstore Malaprops in May. “I was hoping to create a book display of Alexie’s books and encourage our students to attend,” she said. Weaverville is a rural community outside of Asheville, she explained, and student opinion on HB2 is divided, but added, “whatever side of the issue you are on, our community and our state [are] hurting and I’m worried things are only going to escalate further.”

Jennifer LaGarde, a lead school library coordinator living and working in Wilmington, worries about the message HB2 will send to students, and how it will affect their mental health. Calls to Trans Lifeline, a crisis hotline for transgender people, have nearly doubled since the passage of HB2, according to The Daily Beast. “To that end, now more than ever,” LaGarde told LJ, “I feel it’s critical that school librarians everywhere, but especially in NC, create spaces and cultivate collections in which LGBT students can see themselves represented [and] respected and where they feel safe.”

PUBLIC IMPACT

Several representatives of North Carolina’s public libraries, which are dependent on state money for a portion of their funding, were reluctant to comment on the record for this article. But public libraries are making it a point to spread their message of inclusivity at every opportunity.

The Chapel Hill Public Library’s (CHPL) grassroots signage effort, for instance, has taken hold across the town and state. The simple, rainbow-hued image that declares, in part, “In this space all are welcome,” was the inspiration of teen engagement coordinator Stephen Ashley with help from CHPL marketing and communications manager Daniel Siler.

Ashley cares deeply about the young people he serves, library director Susan Brown told LJ. “Many of them identify at various points on the gender spectrum, and he wanted to make sure those teens felt welcome in the teen room.” Ashley first ran the idea by Brown, who was enthusiastic and felt it exemplified the message the library wanted to send. “As a department of the town aligned with the town’s comprehensive plan, one of the guiding pieces of that [plan] is a place for everyone, and that’s really the space that we’ve carved out.”

Brown, in turn, checked in with her supervisor, the town manager, whose response was to request a copy for his office. “Then I sent it out to everybody on the senior leadership team in the town of Chapel Hill, and they said ‘we’d like eight copies for Parks and Rec,’ and ‘we’d like two for transit,’ ” recalled Brown. “So it really took off locally.” CHPL posted the sign on its social media sites, and librarians across the state responded warmly—in part because posting the sign was not an overtly political act.

“I’ve worked in a couple of different states and I have colleagues all over the place,” Brown told LJ. “And I had some folks who saw it who contacted me and said, ‘Susan Brown, we have heard you for years talk about how libraries shouldn’t be political, and how for every Bill Clinton book we buy we have to buy a George Bush book, and here you are being political.’ And I saw that differently. Because the community that we serve took a stand, and our town council took a stand. We were simply reflecting that.”

Brown added, “I do believe that libraries should carve out that political-neutral space when it comes to endorsing candidates and things. But when it comes to whether or not we open our doors to everybody, and one of our core values of being open to all, then I think that’s a bit different.”

RESOURCES

ALSC has compiled a list of resources and bibliography of GLBT information.

ALA has a GLBTRT resource page as well.

CHPL’s poster can be downloaded here.

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. Maggie Cent says:

    “In a special one-day session convened on March 23, –>HB2<– was passed and then signed into law that night by Gov. Pat McCrory (R-NC)."

  2. We have that problem in our medium-size library. We are in a semi-rural area of western Ohio.
    Our solution: locked restrooms with a key designated for male or female. One person at a time in restroom & request key at front circulation desk. Problem solved.

    • “a key designated for male or female”

      While single stall restrooms are absolutely helpful to trans and gender nonconforming individuals, labeling the bathrooms as “male” and “female” is not. Not every person identifies with the gender binary; there are also people whose chromosomes and/or primary sex characteristics are neither male nor female. Also, people who do not have blending privilege or are early in their transition do not conform to a binary gender expression. Add to that the added social interaction of asking a person in authority for a particular bathroom key and there will be people who feel unable to use those facilities.

  3. I’m finding it interesting that library associations are entering this discussion. I understand that individuals might have strong opinions on this and wish to promote one side or the other, but it hardly seems an appropriate topic for a professional association whose purpose to to provide access to information and teach information literacy. The organization should be above the frey to show respect for views of all of their members, not just some. It seems time would be better spent in assisting members with resources for making their individual voices known.

    • anonymous coward says:

      ^^THANK YOU!^^

      IT doesn’t matter. This is not about providing library services to people.

    • Does your library have public bathrooms? Mine sure does. Seems like this might affect their staff and patrons.

    • anonymous coward says:

      Is providing a public restroom typically something we talk about as “library services”? No- it’s a function of having a public building. There are a LOT of things that affect our staff and patrons that aren’t library services issues and the ALA shouldn’t get involved in, imo.

      Does your library pay people- or help unemployed people? Sure sounds like minimum wage is a library service issue. Does your library use electricity and does your staff breathe air? Sure sounds like environmental issues are library service issues. Do your people eat? Sure sounds like food safety is a library service issue.

      How far does one go? Of course these things aren’t library services- but they all impact the daily environment of our libraries. That doesn’t mean our professional organization should be making proclamations about laws regarding them.

    • You’re either being purposefully obtuse AC or you’re failing to see the connection. HB2 states that transgender individuals are required to use the bathroom of their birth gender in public restrooms. Considering public libraries have public restrooms they are, in theory and in practice supposed to enforce this in their libraries. Librarians are stuck doing enough frivolous activities. Now I have to be a bathroom monitor as well?

    • anonymous coward says:

      I think you’re still failing to make the connection as to how this is a public facilities issue and not a library services issue. The librarians will not be bathroom monitors. Nothing will ever (or hardly ever) come of this horrible law- and when it does it will go to the SCOTUS and be rendered unconstitutional.

      I was attempting to show how the rationale used to claim this is a library services issue is one that can be used to show ANYTHING is a library services issue, and picked topics that pointed out the absurdity of the argument.

      This law is bad. There are a lot of bad things in the world. The ALA doesn’t need to issue statements about all of them.

    • anonymous canard says:

      Yep, because staying silent on issues of civil rights is how things change. Even when the issue is “so obvious”.

  4. anonymous says:

    “the most important issue is about respecting members and not putting them in a position where they feel unsafe or uncomfortable, [including] going to the bathroom, a basic human function.”

    –What about those males or females who are uncomfortable with a member of the opposite sex in the stall right next to him/her? To me it doesn’t seem right to make another group of people uncomfortable for the sake of a few.
    Trans people have been using whichever bathroom for years, and that’s not the issue to me. It’s the people who will take advantage of this law (if it were passed) and abuse it, the ones who have bad intentions, NOT the trans people. Why is this all of a sudden an issue? And I agree with an earlier comment – definitely not an issue ALA needs to focus on since it’s not the purpose of the organization.

    • new librarian says:

      “definitely not an issue ALA needs to focus on since it’s not the purpose of the organization.”

      It may not seem so to those outside the profession, but there is actually a good reason for library organizations to address issues like this.
      Libraries need to be responsive to their communities, and in places like NC this – as ridiculous as it is – is a prominent issue and concern at the moment. When organizations issue statements like this, they are helping clarify the stance of the profession on the issue, based on established professional ethics and values. If an issue arises in a library or community, the library can use such statements to guide their response – to ensure they are in line with professional ethics. The ALA’s Library Bill of Rights is an example of a statement that many libraries officially adopt.

    • “What about those males or females who are uncomfortable with a member of the opposite sex in the stall right next to him/her? To me it doesn’t seem right to make another group of people uncomfortable for the sake of a few.”

      Those people need to get over themselves. You shouldn’t be concerned with what the person in the bathroom stall next to you is doing to begin with.