The mayor of Ozark, Alabama on Saturday suggested defunding the Ozark Dale County Public Library if LGBTQ books remain in the young adult section.
Mayor Mark Blankenship, posting from a joint Facebook account with his wife Lori, said “we have been trying to remove this trash from the kids section of our library for several months. We have been told several times it would be removed. It never happens and the library receives three or four more books per month. I know most of you are too busy to attend this meeting but you can contact your city council or county commission members and encourage them to cut their funding to the Dale County Library. If we cut the funding they will be closed and our children will not be exposed to this mess. It’s time the majority of the people stand up and address this liberal mess in Alabama.”
The post was in response to a special called meeting of the Ozark Dale County Public Library Board “in light of an informal request to remove all LGBTQ books from the Young Adult section.”
Blankenship confirmed to APR Sunday that he is the person who made the request. He told APR that he made the request after hearing from a young dad and his son who “ran into those books in the library.” Later he corrected himself, stating that the father instead had a 15-year-old daughter.
“The books were staring at her in the face that shouldn’t be there,” Blankenship said.
According to Blankenship, there are about 56 LGBTQ books in the young adult section, and added that his understanding is that the library gets three to five new LGBTQ books every month. He doesn’t have a specific list of books, he said, and the screenshots of the library website showing the 56 books were sent to him by someone else.
Blankenship told APR he hasn’t “studied the books” but looked through them and saw the “general nature of the books.”
“I think they’re inappropriate based on what I know about them just from looking at them,” Blankenship said.
APR asked what he knew about the books that made them inappropriate.
“I don’t want children exposed to it in our library,” Blankenship said. “Any kind of sexual content at the young age of 12.”
APR asked Blankenship whether he considered all LGBTQ content to be sexual content, and he told APR some of the books might not be sexual and agreed that other non-LGBTQ books might be sexual. But regardless, he said these are the books he wants the library to move to the adult section right now.
The post generated a lot of reaction on Facebook, with many Ozark citizens pleading not to defund the library.
Blankenship said those people have gotten the wrong idea.
“They all want to think that this post is directed at homosexuals, gays, lesbians— I have extremely close friends that are gay,” Blankenship said, noting his pickleball partner is a lesbian. “She understands what I’m saying (about this issue) … it’s no big deal— I just don’t want children exposed to it.”
Ozark citizen Adam Kamerer said he was blindsided by the post.
“I was sitting down to play a video game when I saw this thing blowing up,” Kamerer said. “This is the first time I’ve seen this kind of talk from Blankenship. He’s largely been a benefit to Ozark, most people have been pleased with his leadership. This is the first time I’ve seen him go in this direction.”
In response, Kamerer started a Facebook group “Ozark Against Blankenship’s Call to Defund The Library Over LGBT Books.” It already has more than 450 members, including supporters from outside of Ozark.
The group has begun emailing and contacting city and county leaders asking them not to support defunding the library.
Even if only the city removed its funding from the library, it would be a major blow, wiping out about 50 percent of the library’s budget at more than $109,000. What’s more, based on Alabama Public Library Service guidelines, the library would likely lose state aid. APLS reduces funding when local funding drops. APLS currently funds the Ozark Dale library at about $40,000.
The library temporarily moved the books off the shelf for review, but have since returned the books. The board will discuss what it plans to do about the informal request at a special called meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the library’s Bay Meeting Room. It will also be live-streamed on Facebook.
City Council President Brenda Simechak took to Facebook to declare her support for the library.
“I will not be seeking to nor will I ever vote to defund our Ozark-Dale County public library,” Simechak said in the statement. “The government has no business censoring content in a public library. A library’s purpose for existence is to provide access to information to all of its patrons. When the government deprives someone the right to receive information and ideas, they are practicing censorship. The government can’t argue freedom of speech, but then dictate content. The government does not get to forcefully impose personal beliefs on individuals.
“… If you are concerned about content that your child is reading/watching/listening to, there are resources out there for you to check out or you can read/watch/listen yourself and make that call for your family. You absolutely have a right to limit what your children have access to, but that right does not extend to limiting everyone’s access.”