My Turn: Exhibit offered an opportunity for learning

Posted: Monday, June 10, 2002

After reading the article about the library exhibit in Friday's Empire, I would like to make a few comments and corrections. Joanna Markell did her usual thorough and fair job of reporting; I don't think the omissions and errors are hers.

Carol McCabe's quote that PFLAG "pulled the original exhibit" is incomprehensible to me. The exhibit was dismantled the day after we hung it. To hear how we had "violated the policy," Chris Beanes, Ann Symons and I met with the head librarian and her exhibit coordinator. We were appalled at the condemnation of the PFLAG exhibit, the confiscation of photos and the defacement of the identifying biographies.

Though approved as a theme for the display by Carol back in November, the title, "Notable Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgendered People: Always a Part of Our History and Culture," was deemed to be "inflammatory," "offensive," and "too in your face." She declared, "The display case should be suitable for all ages. What if a child didn't understand those words and asked their parent what they meant?" In my mind, that would be an opportunity for dialog or learning, not a reason for deletion. The PFLAG sponsorship sign explained the organization's mission, "Support Families," "Educate Communities," and "Advocate for Equality." We tried to understand how this sign and images of artists, sports headliners and historic figures were considered "promotional." Finally, we were told the exhibit "promoted PFLAG and 'the gay agenda.' " I couldn't believe my ears!

Librarians have always been my heroes. I've considered them the first line of defense in their democratic commitment to access of information. Growing up, I dreamed of becoming a librarian. Now, I am a member of Friends of the Library. So, it was very disheartening to hear the fear-based rejection of our exhibit. Ann, Chris and I found the censorship unacceptable and the spirit of compromise lacking. Control of content was explicitly claimed and there was no avenue for appeal. I said that I wanted to contact the chair of PFLAG and explain the problem we were confronting. I had taken detailed notes of the library's stance and felt that the subjectivity, vagueness of complaint and selective exclusion of materials was probably unconstitutional. But we made no final determination on behalf of PFLAG regarding the situation. I did not feel it was our place to.

In checking with Pam Northrip and Marsha Buck, officers of PFLAG, I came to a dead end regarding the missing exhibit items. No one connected with PFLAG was known to have "pulled the original exhibit." I am left with the suspicion that library staff has in hand, or knows the whereabouts of, the 23 unused photo images and biographies, the fabric background material, the wide rainbow-hued ribbon streamers, the folder of magazine people pictures and the story of the Rainbow Flag. The flag itself and the photo of the Pride Chorus were not part of the library's "starting from scratch," but were items from the original exhibit. I would like to have the confiscated items returned; a fair amount of time and money were invested in preparing them. PFLAG reserved the display cases for the months of May, June and July. Policy states, "Removal date (of exhibit) will be determined by library during the exhibit's run." Will the gay pride exhibit be left in view through July as originally scheduled?

Homophobia plays a significant part in all of this controversy. I do not accuse the library staff of being "homophobic." But I do believe they are guided by fear of those in the community who are homophobic. This was acknowledged by Carol who admitted she was "chicken" and "would rather fight with PFLAG than with the religious fundamentalists."

Perhaps creation of a Library Advisory Board would protect the librarian from attacks and could hear citizen appeals. A fear-based policy is not the answer when it violates civil liberties and compromises public access to a publicly financed library. PFLAG voted on June 1 to seek Juneau Library compliance with the American Library Association Bill of Rights. If this effort is not successful, PFLAG voted to go to the city manager requesting a legal opinion on the constitutionality of the Juneau Library Policy. I sincerely hope this issue will be resolved within the city government.

Dixie Hood was coordinator of the library exhibit for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). She was recipient of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union "Citizen Activist of the Year Award" in 2001.

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