A push by conservative groups nationwide to have certain titles banned from public schools and libraries came to Rio Rancho earlier this month, receiving considerable pushback during an hourlong public comment period of the April 13 city council meeting.
Michael Jackovich of Rio Rancho opened with comments concerning what he described as “offensive, perverse, pornographic and predator material” within Rio Rancho’s public library collection.
He singled out three books that have been targeted by conservative groups such as Mass Resistance and Moms for Liberty, which seek to ban books they deem unfit for young readers: “The Art of Drag” by Jake Hall, “Once a Girl, Always a Boy” by Jo Ivester and “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson.
While those books are only available in the adult section at the Rio Rancho Loma Colorado branch, he suggested there was nothing stopping a juvenile from checking out the book without their parents' knowledge or consent. He said books in question contained “no social value.”
Several of the more than two dozen people opposed to banning books emphasized their social value.
Comina Duetsch of Corrales said she was the proud parent of a non-binary trans adult. “Children should be able to read about people like themselves,” she said.
Ivan Torres, a senior at Rio Rancho’s Cleveland High School, said it’s not an accident the books being targeted address LGBTQ issues.
Describing himself as a member of an LGBTQ mother family, Torres said books like the ones Jackovich wants to ban provide perspective on LTBTQ life.
He said that books aren’t what’s killing people, racist sentiment is. And the youth of today won’t tolerate it.
“We are the next generation,” he said. “We are voting, and we are coming. And, we are reading.”
What it’s about
The American Library Association reported that challenges to library, school and university materials increased nearly seven fold in the last two years, noting that most of the challenges come from conservative liberty groups.
A report released last year by PEN America, a group that advocates for freedom of expression, identified more than 1,600 titles that had been banned during the 2002-2002 school year. It said a network of political advocacy groups were behind the push, which mostly targeted books with characters and storylines involving LGBTQ+ or persons of color.
Jackovich didn’t identify what “group” he represented, but social media posts in advance of the meeting said Mass Resistance planned to speak at the April 13 meeting.
Jackovich has served on the board of Friends of Libraries and Literacy, which has a “Books for Babies” program. He also identified himself as founder of an unnamed local government watchdog group, according to minutes from a previous city meeting.
Jackovich told the city councilors that he had attempted to raise the issue with the libraries advisory board, but its last meeting was canceled due to lack of agenda items.
He called for a special meeting of the library board of trustees to address the books he questioned.
Jackovich framed his call to ban books, “neither a call for book burning nor censorship. It’s about protecting our children.”
He was followed by a Rio Rancho woman who said citizens enjoy “ordered liberty.” She said there are lots of things law prohibits until someone reaches a certain age, using 21 to buy tobacco as one example. “We don’t call that a ban,” she said. “Our laws tell us what is harmful to minors.”
Later, after more than a dozen people spoke in opposition of banning books, Tanya Watkins stopped the streak.
Describing herself as a Christ follower, mother, wife and educator, Watkins called objectionable books an attack on families.
Wearing a Coalition of Conservatives in Action sweatshirt, Watkins said, “It is that concern for our children, specifically, that moves me to appeal to you … regarding the egregious efforts to subject our posterity to an agenda which would expose them to the vulgarity of pornography under the guise of calling it literature and argue freedom of speech."
But the "mass resistance" in the room was against the banning of books.
One woman said she was old enough to remember the banning of J.D. Salinger’s 1940s novel “Catcher in the Rye” and reminded the room that Hitler first targeted homosexuals.
More than one former college professor spoke against banning books, including Donna Tillman.
“No one has ever told me I couldn’t read any book. And that can never happen in the United States again,” she said.
One woman said it wasn’t a “book ban” that was being discussed, it was a “parent ban.” She argued that banning books was taking away a parent’s right to decide would their child should be exposed to.
Others made the same point about it being up to parents to decide what their kids read.
Another speaker said others shouldn’t be telling people what they should or shouldn’t do if it doesn’t affect them.
Judith Gordon of Bernalillo said people can do what they want, “But don’t try to impose your moral and religious beliefs on the rest of us,” she said. “It would be a sad day if the ‘City of Vison’ became the “City of Censorship.’”
George Mason said banning books related to LGBTQ was a slippery slope.
“What comes next?” he asked.
State Rep. Kathleen Cates of Rio Rancho said libraries were meant to serve the public, and not small special interest groups.
She said there were books in the library that she didn’t agree with and found offensive, but that was OK because the library doesn’t serve her, it serves the public.
She appealed to the council “not to let hate or fear to what is not understood or agreed with to influence decisions about our public library,” closing her remarks by saying, “And love is love.”
When the public comment period ended, City Manager Matt Geisel made clear that nothing on the agenda that night had to do with banning books, nor was there anything in development.
He asked Library Director Jason Shoup to explain the process for removing books from libraries.
Without naming the title, Shoup said there had been just one challenge to a book in his 10 months as director. He said a panel of librarians, some with master’s degrees in library science, unanimously agreed the book was written for children and appropriate for the children’s section.
He said the library attempts to acquire books when they’re requested. He said there were requests for 16 books this year.
Councilor Karissa Culbreath added her comments after a five minute break to clear the packed council chambers. She, nonetheless, wanted people to know that the discussion was “the reason we have public forum.”
Matters didn’t have to be on the city council agenda for the community to vet an important issue, she said.
Culbreath said the community represented itself well, with a cross section of speakers. She said she was inspired by a 94-year-old woman who felt it important to speak at the meeting and the two high school students who express their views.
She emphasized that there was nothing out of the ordinary about the books Jackovich was questioning.
“These books are not uniquely placed in Rio Rancho public libraries,” she said, adding that they can be found in libraries all over the country.
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