Lots of the right’s “holier than thou” ideals are studies in hypocrisy, and a recent case involving a public-library system and some fringe anti-homosexuality groups takes the cake. And banning books is just the tip of their agenda.
Back in April, Burlington County, N.J., banned the book Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology, edited by Amy Sonnie, from its public library shelves. The School Library Journal once named the anthology one of the best books for high schoolers, and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) calls the book “the first creative resource by and for queer and questioning youth of every color, class, religion, gender and ability.” It was banned by Burlington County Library Director Gail Sweet despite the lack of any formal challenge to the book’s existence. Sweet says she made the decision after Beverly Marinelli—reported by the Inquirer as a “grandmother” and member of Fox News pundit Glenn Beck’s 9.12 Project—complained to Sweet about the publication’s existence.
Emails recently obtained by the New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union show Sweet and library commission member Patrick Delany quick to comply. On May 3, Sweet sent a message to library staffers, asking: “How can we grab the books so they never, ever get back into ccirculation (sic).” Sweet later wrote by email to Marinelli: “As the copies that are checked out return, we will take them out of circulation.” Sweet would cite “child pornography” as the reason for her executive decision (which allowed her to go over the head of Island Trees v. Pico, a U.S. Supreme Court decision asserting that “local school boards may not remove books from school libraries simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books”).
The National Coalition Against Censorship also found that Delany’s name “appeared on and then disappeared from a local 9.12 group member list earlier this spring.”
The history of conservative voices against Revolutionary Voices and publications like it is long as it is often infuriating. Groups such as Mission: America and the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) have been decrying the contents of Revolutionary Voices since its 2000 publishing.
(Oh, and if NARTH sounds familiar, it’s because George Rekers, who used to be on the board of directors, was recently caught in a Florida airport with a male prostitute he’d rented from RentBoy.com. NARTH’s website doesn’t mention the Rekers controversy but does inform us of its annual national conference, which will take place right here in Philly in November.)
The recent firestorm of reactionary conservative assemblies has brought this controversy into the mainstream and into our own backyards.
Bill Haney, the leader of 9.12’s Burlington County chaper, insists that the so-called personal-responsibility group has no official stance on the book and that the banning was the independent work of concerned citizens.
“The media put two and two [9.12 and censorship] together and said, ‘OK. Well, it’s the right-wing radical wingnuts coming in and claiming the right to censorship,’” says Haney, “when in fact that wasn’t the case. It was several people taking exception to this particular book and [the media] fostered the idea that it was a conspiracy on the part of conservative people.”
But Beck, the group’s founder, has consistently attacked and called for the firing of Kevin Jennings, former director of the GLSEN and current assistant deputy secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Beck took issue with Jennings’ policies of promoting tolerance toward homosexuals in public schools, among other now-defunct conspiracies.
Controversy over Revolutionary Voices was first propagated by Linda Harvey, founder of Mission: America, a nonprofit ministry that states “All that can save [America is] … the blood of Jesus Christ.” Harvey cited Revolutionary Voices in her 2002 article titled, “The World According to PFLAG [Nonprofit group Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays]: Why PFLAG and Children Don’t Mix Unless you happen to like child abuse (sic),” which mainstreamed criticism of the book.
Along with banning books that have already been approved by GLSEN—“A growing, well-funded pro-homosexual organization which advocates the practice of dangerous sexual behaviors by children and adults,” according to Mission: America—these conservative groups are dedicated to the elimination of gay-straight alliance clubs within high schools and restructuring sexual education curriculums. Mission: American believes sex-ed should teach that the homosexual lifestyle “may well reduce life expectancy” and “involves high levels of promiscuity.” It also describes schools’ anti-homosexual-bullying policies as the equivalent to “a totalitarian regime of mental re-programming.”
Another Linda Harvey article, titled “A ‘Safe’ Place to Learn About Homosexual Sex,” warns parents of community centers where children often go after school to keep out of trouble. “Your sixth grader would be welcomed there by adult volunteers and staff, and allowed to socialize with high school and college age ‘gay’ youth,” she writes.
Banning books is not listed on 9.12’s official mission statement. Nor are anti-homosexual policies of ending tolerance in schools a part of Beck’s nine principles and 12 values (9.12’s Haney tells us he’s never even heard of NARTH). These issues just fall under the same conservative umbrella.
The fact that a librarian put the goals of NARTH and Mission: America above official policy is a sign of events to come—sex-ed reform, the elimination of gay-straight alliance groups and after-school community organizations—should the legitimization of Mission: America and NARTH persist.
For individuals so apparently enthralled with the Constitution, it’s especially hypocritical to participate in censorship at the local governmental level. If Burlington County allows these bans to stand, this is just the beginning. It could set the precedent for the rest of these bigoted agendas to be carried out in communities around the country.
Fox News’ Glenn Beck’s ratings may be in a freefall, but some locals who take his act as truth are still pushing their agenda on others in the name of miseducating children.