The Anne Arundel County Public Library’s Board of Trustees on Thursday approved more than 16 LGBT-themed programs that had previously been left in limbo.
The programs include Drag Queen Story Times, an LGBT film festival and teen leadership program, a “lunch-and-learn” program with a transgender woman and public health presentations in partnership with Planned Parenthood.
Previous LGBT events in the country’s libraries proved controversial for some community members and prompted involvement from the board of trustees.
In December, the board gave itself approval power over all future library events following a Drag Queen Story Time that occurred at the Glen Burnie Regional Library a few months prior.
The event, which drew more than 100 children and parents, featured drag queen Balena Canto and was the first drag story time at one of the county’s libraries.
Anne Arundel County Public Library CEO Skip Auld said reactions to the story time were mixed, but positive responses outnumbered negative ones.
Last month, Auld submitted a proposal to trustees that contained the 16 now-approved LGBT programs.
These ideas were first introduced to the trustees on Feb. 21. Five days later, the 21-member board held a closed meeting with an attorney about the programs and did not give a response on whether they would be approved until Thursday.
The delay in approval and the board’s involvement in the approval process drew a significant amount of attention within Anne Arundel County and beyond.
Auld told the Washington Blade that Thursday’s meeting was the largest “we’ve ever had in terms of attendance from the public.” He estimates between 75 and 100 members of the public showed up, and 19 of those individuals testified. The majority of testimonies favored the approval of the LGBT programs.
Hours before the meeting, the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association sent a letter to the board, siding with Auld and suggesting the board retract the approval power it gave itself.
The letter, signed by Office for Intellectual Freedom Interim Director Deborah Caldwell Stone, says abandoning such power will ensure the library system has “the flexibility and means to create creative, innovative programs that represent a full range of viewpoints and serve the needs of all members of the community, in accordance with your mission statement.”
The letter goes on to address the LGBT-programming specifically.
“We understand that there has been controversy over LGBTQ programming in Anne Arundel County,” Stone wrote. “But suppressing or canceling a program or event because of real or anticipated controversy negatively impacts the library’s ability to serve the entire community, and its reputation as a place of learning, personal growth, and the exchange of ideas.”
“Those who object should not be given the power to deny access to programming such as ‘Drag Queen Story Times’ and other LGBTQ programs that can and do serve the needs of members of your community,” added Stone.
Board chair Donald Roland told the Capital Gazette the board gave itself approval power not to halt LGBT and other “controversial” events but rather to help facilitate them properly.
“The board is going to use its knowledge, its capability, to ensure a good outcome,” Roland said.
Though the board approved the proposed LGBT programs as Auld hoped would occur, it remains unclear how it will approach the approval of future events.
“There was a lack of resolution on that,” Auld said.
Another board meeting is set to occur in April. Auld hopes trustees will formally step back from its recent involvement in monitoring library programming.
“If things go well, the board will clarify that it is the staff responsibility to create programs that meet the needs of our community, all of our community, and it is not the board’s role to intervene and say you shouldn’t be doing those types of programs,” Auld said.