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“I’ll bring a match”: Ozark library board member text evokes burning LGBTQ books

The text provided an explosive moment Wednesday during a special called meeting of the Ozark Dale County Public Library Board.

Residents pack the Ozark Dale County Library for a board meeting over what to do about Mayor Mark Blankenship's request to move all LGBTQ books to the adult section—or risk losing funding. (ADAM KAMERER/SUBMITTED)
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Early on the morning of March 21, Ozark Mayor Mark Blankenship sent a text to Ozark Dale County Public Library director Karen Speck and library board member Monica Carroll asking “What do I need to do to have these 61 books removed from our library?” Attached was a screenshot the mayor had received from a constituent, showing a book in the library and complaint that the book had an LGBTQ sticker on the spine.

“I’ll bring a match,” Carroll replied, along with two laughing emojis, before adding that she would ask Speck what the procedure was. 

Fittingly, that exchange provided an explosive moment Wednesday during a special called meeting of the Ozark Dale County Public Library Board to discuss a plan of action in response to the mayor’s informal request.

Many of the library supporters brought books with them to the meeting to identify themselves as supporters, with Fahrenheit 451 being a particularly popular choice. In Fahrenheit 451, books are burned under the authority of a totalitarian government.

The first action of the board ultimately was to lawyer up, as the board has not previously had an attorney on retainer. The board voted unanimously to spend $3,500 to retain attorney Sara Elizabeth Matthews-Hile.

The majority of the nearly four-hour meeting was spent hearing public comments from both sides of the debate, after Blankenship threatened on Facebook to bring about the defunding of the library if the board refuses to move the LGBT books. 

Michael Cairns, vice chair of the library board, criticized Blankenship for not challenging books through the proper channels.

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“This all started with two unofficial requests that began all the way back in March this year to remove books from the library that contained a certain sticker,” Cairns said. “Now we cannot arbitrarily remove items from the library without proper review … There is a proper procedure to follow to have those books moved; not a threat, not a text message, not a Facebook post.”

Cairns also noted that the books challenged by Blankenship are not even about the content within the book, but the LGBT label on the spine.

“No one took the time to read them, no one looked over the content, no one even so much as opened the cover before they started making complaints,” Cairns said. “This started over a sticker.”

Citizen reveals texts between mayor, public library officials

Adam Kamerer, an Ozark Citizen who formed a Facebook group now titled “Ozark-Dale Library Alliance,” spoke before the board Wednesday and began reading the content of text messages exchanged between the mayor and public library officials, which he obtained by filing a request under the Alabama Open Records Act.

It began with the March 21 message from Blankenship to Carroll and Speck. Kamerer did not get much further into the conversation before being cut off by a member in attendance.

Ozark-Dale library board member Monica Carroll jokes about “bringing a match” to remove LGBTQ books.

“I didn’t think this was about talking about somebody, I thought it was talking about the policies,” the man said, before a chorus of voices chimed in from the audience.

“I think we need to hear it,” someone could be heard saying.

“No sir, what I said was personal attacks, this is regarding policy— no this is not a personal attack … what he’s explaining is the process that started all of us in this room,” Cairns corrected. “It’s not a personal attack, he’s not calling anybody names—”

“What he’s not saying is a parent had called him,” Lori Blankenship, the mayor’s wife, interjected. “That all of this is (unintelligible) … is either a yes or no. Do you want this mess …”

At this point, multiple voices compete and wipe out any ability to hear the rest of the dialogue. The board broke for lunch without letting Kamerer finish his public comment time. When the board returned from the lunch break to resume the meeting, Cairns told the audience that the board had voted to consider Kamerer’s reading of the texts a personal attack and did not allow him to finish reading the public records aloud.

However, Kamerer made them available to media and on social media during the break. The next text is Speck explaining to Blankenship the reconsideration policy that should be followed to challenge a book. Then there is an apparent gap in time before Blankenship messages the two again.

“I have another complaint about these books,” Blankenship said. “I thought they had been removed. Do I need to come check them out?”

Speck responded that “the guy” who’d complained about the books said there wasn’t enough of a balance between the books with other genres including Christian, romance, mystery, etc. and Speck said the library had been working to expand those categories to provide more balance. 

“Most of the LGBTQ books come from a standing order,” Speck said. “I will call them and have them not send the LGBTQ books to us anymore. Can you please ask this person to come to me about his or her issue?”

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Blankenship responded that “In Ozark Alabama, the large majority of the people don’t want to see this in our library.”

“100 percent of my city council will agree,” Blankenship texted. “I hate to see the library lose funding over this mess!”

So far, four out of five Ozark City Council members have publicly stated opposition to Blankenship’s call to defund the library. At least one, Winston Jackson, made it clear Wednesday that he also opposes censoring books.


In a later text, Blankenship references an apparent motion made on the issue at a previous board meeting, which failed due to no member seconding the motion. It is not immediately clear who the text was sent to outside of Karen Speck, as it was sent in a group chat of at least eight people. He lamented that the Dothan library classifies the books in question in the adult section, but the Ozark Dale board did not vote to move the books to the adult section. APR has not yet independently verified the location of the books in the Dothan library.

“I’m personally done with the library and will be presenting future board member names that will represent the best interest of our kids while running our library,” Blankenship said in the text. 

Speck explained to Blankenship that her board is divided on the issue, and told the mayor that moving the books amounted to censorship.

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“Getting rid of the entire section is not the answer,” Speck said.

“So I’ll help you advertise this LGBTQ meeting in Dale County,” Blankenship said in the last text message obtained by Kamerer. “I don’t know a person that agrees with this trash being in our children’s section of the library. The entire board and staff should resign if they can’t see protecting our children is most important. I don’t care what the liberal library polices say!”

Board shows signs of split over issue

Following the public comment session, Carroll read an explicit excerpt from “The Mirror Season,” one of two books in the Young Adult section that has been challenged by Enfinger. 

“I give in. The boy’s body gives in. It trembles out, that ribbon of white. I clench my throat. “Ahh, come on.” This from PJ. ‘Yeah, you can’t go that far and not finish the job,”‘Chris. Swallow it Victoria. Swallow it. Swallow all of it.”

Carroll’s voice trembled as she finished reading the excerpt. 

“This was in the section for a 12-year-old,” Carroll said. “… I’m begging the community. Come help us … help us keep this mess off our shelf.”

The excerpt is describing a sexual assault, The book includes a warning on the front page that it contains a depiction of sexual assault. The book tells the story of two teens sexually assaulted on the same day, and the bond they share over their trauma. 

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Carroll noted that the book is not LGBTQ. Thus, it would not fall under Blankenship’s blanket order to remove all LGBTQ content from the young adult section. 

Christina Faulkner also took issue with the book and attempted to open business back up to create a policy to segregate “mature content” from the rest of the young adult section. 

Faulkner cited that ALA’s censorship policy was created at a time when Nazi Germany was banning books to keep such things from happening in America, but noted that leadership of an organization changes over time and that the purposes have “become warped.” Republicans are gearing up a challenge to dissociate Alabama libraries from the ALA in whatever ways possible, in part because the current president is a self-identified Marxist lesbian.

Ozark councilwoman Leah Harlow, who has expressed opposition to defunding the library, advocated for the separation of the young adult section into more narrowly tailored areas for different age ranges of teens.

Following the meeting, Harlow posted on Facebook that The Mirror Season is “pure smut.”

“There was a lot of grandstanding and off-topic discussion but at the end of the day a library board member read a very sexually explicit paragraph from one of the titles available in the “young adult”(12-17 year old) section which pretty much affirmed my statement of the need for a separate room for materials for 12-15 year olds,” Harlow stated. “Too bad most of the opposition had left and didn’t hear the pure smut that was read to us. Regardless, it should be in an adult section or even an adult section that deals with trauma recovery.”

Blankenship also spoke to “set the record straight” after being “falsely accused” of not following proper library policy. He said he had no way of knowing that the constituent had not filed a correct reconsideration form. Blankenship said he was told last week the board took vote and would move these books to the adult section, and then said nobody had told him about this special called meeting.

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People on both sides speak out in public comment session

If Blankenship did not know a person that “agrees with this trash being in our children’s section of the library” when he sent that text message, he certainly heard from them Wednesday, as well as many people who agreed with him that the books should be moved or removed.

“Foremost, I’m a mommy,” said Ozark native and resident Julia Carroll. “I’m a nanny, I’m a godmother, I’m an avid reader, I’m a voter in this town, I am in love with Alabama, the place where I was raised—and I’m gay. And I knew I was gay in the second grade, years before I knew what sex was. To inherently sexualize a queer relationship, that’s on you guys. These books don’t even have sex in them directly—it’s about love …

“I was a senior at Headland High School when I finally came out. And my friends called me the ‘f-word,’ the ‘w-word,’ I had things thrown at me out of windows, my church turned it’s back on me, the church that I went to from a single-digit age. I had to leave this state to find safety, to find a place where I could exist and grow. And then I had a little baby and I brought her back here because this is a great place to raise a child, and I refuse to let her see the same things that I saw … 

“I’m going to give voice to people that I know that didn’t quite make it to where I made it. Marginalizing any group, especially the youth of a group, is pure violence. A book could be the difference between life and death. I am not being exaggerative—we’ve already had one person share their experience with suicidal ideation; I tried to kill myself twice and I survived. And you know what? Not everyone does.”

Carroll told the story of a fellow high school student who committed suicide, and said the students were not allowed even to have a moment of silence in his honor. 

“Stop saying you want to protect children,” Carroll said. “Guess who’s our children? Queer youth. Gay kids exist, I was gay when I was in second grade. Thank you to all the gay youth here today: you’re badass, do not kill yourself over these losers.”

The first speaker at the meeting, Jim Hill, started by urging anyone that is not a Dale County resident to “keep silent.”

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“This is not about you, but our community library,” Hill said. He said his preference is to remove the books entirely, and compared them to a “hot stove” that could leave community children “burned.” Short of removing the books, he suggested they be placed in a monitored section. 

“My preference would be to show love to all and remove the books; however that may not be practical,” Hill said. “I did not remove the stove from our home to keep (my children) from being burned. We simply kept an eye on them.”

Alden Rocha, an adult library volunteer, identified herself as a “highly conservative Christian speaking against the book ban.”

“This is a direct attack on civil rights and our freedom,” Rocha said. “People in the LGBTQ community are taxpayers too, and they should have access to the books that they and their kids request … As a person who read all these series growing up, I can tell you that what someone reads does not make them who they are. I’m still straight, I’m certainly not worshipping fake gods, or attempting to cast a spell. Even after learning the world’s history, I have yet to start an international war.”

With a baby on her hip, Ozark resident Hillary Miles said defunding libraries and censoring books go against American values.

“I am extremely appalled at the idea of my public library being censored by my local government,” Miles said. “I’m utterly disgusted that in the United States of America this idea is even being entertained … There are plenty of books in the library I might not let my children read for numerous reasons— that is my job as their parent to monitor their reading, not yours. I have never called for any books to be banned. Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin, Stalin, General Mao—these people banned books. Is that how you choose to represent yourselves?”

Miles also challenged the library board to create a new policy requiring a person to have a library card in order to file a reconsideration of materials form. County Commissioner Adam Enfinger filed what Cairns said were the first two such forms in history. Although the names were redacted on the forms, Enfinger himself announced that he had filed the forms. And an unreacted question on the form asks whether the filer is a registered borrower at the library, to which Enfinger responded “No.”

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A man who identified himself as “Storming'” Norman Horton said the other side is hypocrites due to criticism of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn over inclusion of the N-word. He also compared books to guns and said children have no rights.

“I’ve got a second amendment right to carry a gun,” Horton said. “I do not have a right to put my gun, that’s loaded, in front of a child and expect them to handle it the way that I would. Let me remind you that children have no rights. Their rights are under the direction and custody of their parents, not the public library.”

Horton pointed to a parental rights bill passed in the Alabama Legislature in the last session as proof of the concept.

“Unfortunately, in many ways we have become a selfish nation, we are more concerned about advancing and even forcing our personal agendas on those that are least able to discern what is best for them instead of looking out for the least of these, our children. This is the reason for indoctrination at an early age.

“After all, if we can’t create, we must recruit.”

Gene Lynn, a Black man, talked about his concerns of discrimination against people who don’t have the same thoughts, and recounted having difficulty finding books representing himself as a child in the library.

“When I was growing up, I was born and raised in Ozark, started school … in 1956,” Lynn said. “A young musician, I would go to the library looking for books on Black musicians. There were no books in the library written for Black musicians, there was not a section in my library for Black people, period. There were no books in the library written by Black people. I hear a lot of you guys speaking of how the Bible comes into play, but one of the first books that was banned, for my people was the Bible. We were not allowed to read the Bible, the Bible was kept from us. Discrimination. Bigotry. That’s what this is all about. We should not try and keep our kids from learning about other people; this is what makes them accept other people, when they read the books …”

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Bobbi McLaughlin held up the Ozark Dale library card she said she picked up when she moved to Ozark in 1971, and told the audience that the idea of defunding a library “sickens me.”

“On the second day of living here, I drove to the library and got my card and this is it,” McLaughlin said, holding the card up proudly. “I thought I had won the lottery. It cost me $5 and that was it … If you are so concerned about what books we have in the library, you’d better turn your TV off … I’d also like to say, if I read a book about a detective, it does not make me one. To think that we’re reading a book about LBGTQ people, that will not make someone a part of that esteemed community. That theory shows complete ignorance.”

Sharon Sidebottom thanked the library for making residents aware about the procedure to review and challenge books that they believe need to be moved to another area, and said she plans to be more involved in the library.

“Quite frankly, some of the books that we have in smaller and smaller ages, if they were to be put in an animated movie, they would be rated R or X,” Sidebottom said. “… I don’t want our children indoctrinated in certain subjects before they have the developmental ability to process what they are seeing. So we do need to put a guard around our children. God gave all of us the freedom of choice, but he never gives us more than what our age group can handle— it’s the enemy that wants to abuse us, and cause us to have things infiltrated into us at too early of an age that can taint us and be an event that a lie can attach to and be the truth for us for many years of our lives until we can be illuminated to what we truly are.”

Sue Ellen Moseley said reading is important to her as a longtime schoolteacher in the community.

“During my 86 years on this planet, I’ve had the joy of being a wife, another, a grandmother, and also an elementary schoolteacher,” Moseley said. “For 32 years I taught children, or tried to teach children in Ozark to read. With some I was very successful,; with others I was a total, utter complete failure. To this day, they probably don’t read … I can hardly believe that people I had faith in and helped elect to public office are demanding that certain books be removed from our library. If you are in opposition to any book in this library … you as an adult have the right to read it, or not to read it. Also, as a parent, you have the right to encourage your child to read or not to read. Especially if one of the books has people in it, characters, who are not exactly like your child.”

Upon being told her three minutes were up, Moseley closed by saying “Wake up, Ozark!”

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Theresa Philby said that tools such as parental controls help parents have a voice in what their kids are exposed to on TVs and the internet, but have no such protection at the library.

“We’re here because parents are concerned about what their kids are being exposed to,” Philby said. “Parents should be able to have some kind of say, some kind of control, in protecting the innocence from things that they’re not ready for, that they don’t know how to process … Nobody’s being told not to take these books home.”

By APR’s count, there were 18 people that spoke generally against Blankenship’s blanket call to move the LGBTQ books out of the section, while 12 people spoke generally in favor of moving the books out of the section. It is important to note that some people who opposed moving the books in the manner Blankenship requested, they expressed support for allowing library review procedures to be used to determine if individual books should be moved.

That’s not including 130 people who submitted online comments ahead of the meeting, of which only a few were able to be read aloud during the meeting due to time constraints. However, the library shared after the meeting that those comments will be made publicly available and will be sent to board members.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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