Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Despite No Show, Opposition to Book Bans Remains Strong in Rio Rancho

100 strong turn out for Library Advisory Board meeting


A recent social media post by the state chapter of a far-right organization bent on having some books removed from schools and public libraries urged people to attend their next library board meeting. “Stop being afraid of evil; SPEAK THE TRUTH,” it read below a caricature of presumably two males engaged in sex.

And many people did come out to speak their truths at the Rio Rancho Library Advisory Board meeting on Monday, Aug. 14, with a crowd of more than 100 overflowing the meeting room into the lobby of the Loma Colorado Library.

But none of them were there to call for the city’s libraries to disassociate itself with the American Library Association, as called for in the social media post by New Mexico MassResistance, which claims the ALA “wants to destroy the heterosexual nuclear family.” They were there to support the First Amendment, the right to make their own choices for their children, and the human principles of compassion, acceptance and respect for diversity.

The truth came out early during the meeting’s public forum when the first person to speak noted that most of the books targeted by MassResistance and other groups, like Moms for Liberty and No Left Turn on Education, carry LGBTQ+ themes. Several argued those books can provide comfort for those still struggling with who they really are.

“These books literally save lives,” the speaker said, citing statistics showing young adults with gender dysphoria have higher rates of suicidal tendencies than their peers.

The man distributed cardboard signs depicting some of the book covers these groups want removed from libraries. “Imagine being trapped in a body that’s wrong for you, or your family, your friends, your teachers don’t understand what you’re going through,” he said with compassion. “Please, keep the public library a place where there’s freedom to read.”

About 20 speakers – all of them opposed to banning books from libraries – addressed the Library Advisory Board at what is normally a routine, uneventful meeting. But none of them were with MassResistance, which had spoken out at Rio Rancho city council meetings earlier this year. At one of them, a scuffle nearly broke out and at the other the meeting was stopped and the group’s local leader, Michael Jackovich, was removed for causing a disruption. It was at that meeting in May that the city council passed a resolution in support of library staff and procedures used to vet and scrutinize any books asked to be removed from shelves.

A spokesperson for MassResistance recently told the Signpost that its effort is not to ban books, but to keep children from accessing pornography. “‘Book ban’ is a talking point co-opted by the left,” said spokesperson, Arthur Schaper. “These are not book bans! These are pornography bans!”

Schaper went on to say that homosexuality is destructive behavior and transgenderism is a mental illness.

Destructive behavior

While MassResistance has made noise at other meetings and threatened to flood the library with “requests for reconsideration,” the formal appeal process for removing books, library director Jason Schoup said none have been received so far.

MassResistance describes itself as a “pro-family” activist organization on its website, but its family values apparently don’t include acceptance and respect for others, especially those in the LGBTQ+ and Black communities. Its website says the group was founded in 1995 during the gay marriage “crisis” in Massachusetts. It took its name in 2006 “when our role as the true resistance to a tyrannical government became clear.”

The group embraces an extremist and confrontational approach against “anti-family forces.”

In the “About us” section of its website, the group says that “too many pro-family groups want to be seen as ‘reasonable’ and ‘not extreme.’ They tend to ‘fight’ by writing commentary, re-posting shocking articles, and putting up a polite opposition to the latest left-wing lunacy. So they don’t accomplish much. But Mass Resistance focuses on exposing the harsh truths.”

It then refers to two books it published, one of which, ironically, was banned by Amazon. The company stopped selling “The Health Hazards of Homosexuality,” due to content it deemed “offensive” to others.

Even some on the right consider MassResistance too extreme. In 2018, the group was denied an exhibition table at the influential Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC, where far-right Republicans have found a home. The group, which contends “out-and-proud homosexuality is now corrupting conservatism and Christianity,” was not welcomed at the convention by Log Cabin Republicans, the fraction of the party that is LGBTQ+ rights friendly.

MassResisteance has also been designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The group states on its website that Black Lives Matter teaches kids a Marxist ideology.

Speaking their truth

Those who addressed the advisory board on Monday spoke about the First Amendment rights, the scourge of white supremacy, civil liberties and compassion for people finding their true identity in life.

Judy Duetsch, of Corrales, who has spoken at other meetings, gave her perspective after living 94 years of life, which included efforts to ban books during the McCarthy era of the 1950s and again in the ‘80s.

“Banning books is for fascists,” she said to applause. “Reading brings knowledge. That’s what people of all ages need, not misinformation. And I wish that the book banners had enough knowledge to know that transgender people are not evil, as they have said in some of their literature. My grandchild is transgender and they are among the best people I know.”

Another woman called out MassResistance for its homophobic attitude. She said the group’s recent effort to get libraries to disassociate with the ALA is also about ALA president Emily Drabinski. “She is not of the persuasion the righties want her to be,” the woman said.

Two black women spoke their truths.

Doris Fields, a former college professor and chair of the Placitas Community Library board of directors, said she was a descendent of African slaves and one of the freedoms that was denied her ancestors was the freedom to learn. She’s fought for civil rights all her life, she said, and won’t back down from providing all children with the opportunity to learn through reading.

Another woman claimed efforts like those employed by MassResistance is rooted in white supremacy. Books that children can identify with characters is important, she said, and does save lives.

“To have that freedom to read what you want to read and identify yourself in books and be able to say, ‘hey, there’s someone like me.’ Trust me, I know the importance of that,” she said.

Another woman noted the absurdity of people using their freedom of speech to try to stifle the free speech of others through book bans.

And another woman got emotional when speaking about people interfering with the way she chooses to raise her child.

“I don’t think it’s anyone’s right to tell us what we can and cannot check out from the library, to tell us what can and cannot be available to us, what our kids can and cannot learn,” said Kathy Boyle. “You make those decisions for your children, I’ll make those decisions for mine.”

Another woman, who described herself as an educator from Albuquerque, questioned what MassResistance was attempting to do and warned of dire consequences if they succeeded.

“The library board must ensure that all citizens are represented and allowing one angry group to strip the protections of everyone else just brings us closer to a future of ignorance and increased bigotry,” she said.

After the meeting, Library Director Schoup was grateful for the outpouring of support from the community.

“We do this as librarians because we love freedom of speech and we love the First Amendment, and it’s been so powerful to see how much this community cares for that,” he said. “I think people in this community are patriots and Americans. They love the First Amendment and freedom of speech and the right to read what they want to. They love supporting our library. And as a librarian, you can’t ask for more than that.”


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