Connect with us


Banning cops from NYC Pride should not be controversial

Pride is unity & protest, Pride is for the marginalized. Can we all take the controversy down a notch and focus on achieving equality?



Heritage of Pride NYC (Photo Credit: Andrew Nasonov)

By James Finn | Did you hear New York City’s Heritage of Pride, which throws the traditional Pride Parade and other festivals, has banned law enforcement from all its events? They’ve even committed to hire private security to keep NYPD cops a minimum of one block away from parade routes and street festivals.

Gay City News reports that, “Law enforcement and correction officers will not be allowed to have contingents in the annual march hosted by HOP and the NYPD will be barred from speaking at HOP events or using their platform.”

Owing to covid19, HOP isn’t sponsoring a parade this year, but they’re throwing other events as public health measures allow, and the ban extends to at least 2025, so it will impact future parades.

We have to come out into the open and stop being ashamed, or else people will go on treating us as freaks.

HOP’s decision has been hailed by many LGBTQ advocates, who have long called for a ban on uniformed police at Pride. But loud controversy has erupted, just like in TorontoSan Francisco and others cities where uniformed cops were barred from Pride events in recent years.

Controversy centers around gay white men and gay cops

On Facebook, where I help moderate several large LGBTQ groups, intense controversy erupted over previous police Pride bans. Controversy is raging again this year with the NYC announcement. While I don’t have hard numbers, most opposition comes from gay white men with complaints like the following:

  1. This decision is bigoted against the police. It’s not fair to discriminate against them when we ask people not to discriminate against us.
  2. Grow up, society needs cops. Without law enforcement, chaos would ensue.
  3. Radical activists are out of control. Most gay people are fine with cops, and most cops are fine with gay people.

The Gay Officers Action Alliance say they are deeply hurt

G.O.A.L (Gay Officers Action League) is an association of LGBTQ law enforcement officers in NYC that has fought for decades inside the NYPD to bring about positive change.

Through at least the 1990s, G.O.A.L. cops fought tremendous department stigma, often facing rejection from fellow officers that put them in danger on the street. They say they toughed it out and took brave stands they deserve to be recognized for. They say they feel betrayed by HOP’s decision.

Echoing complaints about “radical activists,” G.O.A.L. president Brian Downey released the following statement last week:

So [HOP’s] response to activist pressure is to take the low road by preventing their fellow community members from celebrating their identities and honoring the shared legacy of the Stonewall Riots. It is demoralizing that Heritage of Pride didn’t have the courage to refer to GOAL by name in its announcement, referring to us only as ‘Law Enforcement Exhibitors.’ The label is not only offensive but dehumanizing for our members.

Here’s why HOP’s decision should not be controversial

As emotionally incendiary as some of these issues are, they boil down pretty simply. Let’s start by acknowledging that Pride is a commemoration of 1969’s Stonewall Riots, an explicit response to NYPD persecution of and brutality against queer people living on the margins in Greenwich Village.

From Stonewall …

Stonewall did NOT blow up because respectable gay white men staged a march. Stonewall was a riot. Plenty of gay white men rioted, but in the company of “street queens” of color like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and hundreds more. While Johnson said she didn’t throw the first brick (as legend would have it), and while Rivera may not have been there the first night, their legend personifies the truth of Stonewall.

They fought police oppression and founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.) to fight for street queens of color — poor, living on the margins, and targeted by the police because of race, gender presentation, and sexuality.

To Pride …

Johnson was also a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and leading figure in the Christopher Street Liberation Day March in 1970, which was the very first NYC Pride parade.

Michael Brown, another founding member of the GLF may have coined the term Pride when he released this statement in 1970: “We have to come out into the open and stop being ashamed, or else people will go on treating us as freaks. This march is an affirmation and declaration of our new pride.”

The GLF march that year was not a celebration. It was not a party. It was not much fun, according to first-hand accounts. It was serious, gut-churning business, a group of “freaks” uniting to keep Stonewall’s spirit alive, to keep fighting back. And the fight was often against the police, a fact that feels uncomfortable to some today, but was and remains true.

By the time I became a Queer Nation/Act Up member in 1990, NYPD cops were still overtly hostile to LGBTQ people. They brutalized us at our protests and actions, and they ostracized members of G.O.A.L., even turning their backs on them at Pride in blatant shows of police lawlessness.

Today, the NYPD remains brutal and hostile to LGBTQ people

While the social stigma white gay men feel has improved in some places, Marsha Johnson’s struggle goes on — as queer people of color combat intense stigmatization and violence.

For example, just this year, activists finally pressured the New York State legislature to repeal a “walking while trans” loitering law the NYPD used to harass and jail people of color, predominately transgender women, just for existing.

Just last June, NYPD officers brutally beat LGBTQ protestors marching outside the Stonewall to protest violence against transgender people and other LGBTQ people of color. Advocates roundly condemned police for their brutality that night, but little has changed.

This spring, the NYPD has been violently roughing up LGBTQ people at weekly Stonewall protests condemning violence against Black and transgender people. Here’s some footage:

Point by point rebuttal

In order to understand why HOP’s decision should not be controversial, it’s first critical to understand Pride as protest. We don’t march in June just to have a party, though celebration is organic to Pride. Something akin to spiritual ecstasy happens when marginalized people come together in large numbers to dance and sing their unity. An electrified surge prickles skin and amps up pulse rates when “freaks” come together to fight for joy.

But that celebration is inextricably bound up with protest. Without protest, there’s little to celebrate. Why come together at all if not to keep fighting for our brothers and sisters on the margins?

So to those who don’t understand why HOP made the right call, let’s go point by point.

This decision is bigoted against the police. It’s not fair to discriminate against them when we ask people not to discriminate against us.

As appealing as this argument may sound, it’s fundamentally flawed. Police officers (as nice and upstanding as some of them are) are too often the enforcing agents of marginalization and discrimination. They aren’t themselves marginalized or oppressed. Keeping uniformed police out of Pride does not harm them as human beings or reduce their rights as citizens.

Rather, the ban acknowledges the pain experienced by marginalized LGBTQ people, and it serves to pressure police leaders and politicians to work harder for reform and positive change. It’s a statement made by the marginalized to the powerful. Characterizing it as “discrimination” is a false equivalence.

Grow up, society needs cops. Without law enforcement, chaos would ensue.

Can we please acknowledge that barring uniformed police from Pride is different from eliminating (or defunding) police departments? Granted, some of the same advocates protesting police brutality against Black folks and other marginalized people are pushing to bar cops from Pride. Some of them support radical restructuring of law enforcement. But barring uniformed officers from Pride is not the same thing. You can oppose radical restructuring and still support efforts to pressure police departments to stop brutalizing marginalized people.

Radical activists are out of control. Most gay people are fine with cops, and most cops are fine with gay people.

Broad coalitions of LGBTQ advocates call for barring uniformed police from Pride events, not just radical activists. The Anti Violence Project took the lead in New York City, and they’re hardly fringe radicals. They’re a group of staid civil rights lawyers who have been using the law for decades to fight police violence aimed at queer people.

Andy Humm, a highly respected former NYC Human Rights commissioner, is on the record supporting HOP’s decision. As an LGBTQ elder statesman, Humm has more often been “accused” of being a moderate than a radical, so his observations are well worth an airing:

The decision of Heritage of Pride to exclude law enforcement groups through 2025 from their parade has divided the community and I have good friends on both sides of the issue. Let me just say that Heritage of Pride gave up on the spirit of Christopher Street Liberation Day decades ago — turning a civil rights march into an endless parade dominated by corporate floats and advertising …

I would also ask my friends who are so outraged by how HOP has handled this issue to listen to the just concerns of community members — especially people of color — who have been abused by police and why they don’t want to participate in marches with them. In the time of George Floyd and countless other victims, that pain is fresh and real.

Humm worked closely with police officers in his official capacity over the years, coming to like and respect many of them, working productively to bring about positive change. In his full statement, well worth reading, he acknowledges the pain that many G.O.A.L. officers are feeling right now. But he still insists barring cops from Pride is the right call.

This issue is not about how individual queer people feel or about how individual police officers feel. It’s about acknowledging systemic oppression and working for change.

Let’s talk about G.O.A.L. and pink washing

Many “out and proud” cops who are members of G.O.A.L. have fought hard to change NYPD police culture for the better. Many of them have done so at great personal risk. When I attended Pride parades and watched every uniformed cop on the avenue turn their backs on marching G.O.A.L. cops, I always felt an electric surge of affection as well as respect for their personal courage.

But that was then.

G.O.A.L. is no longer a tiny scrappy band of a gay cops fighting institutional oppression killing their careers. White gay cops in the NYPD no longer face the persecution they used to face.

I don’t say that to denigrate G.O.A.L. members, but to acknowledge that things have changed.

To G.O.A.L. president Brian Downey, I say respectfully that the NYPD does not “share a legacy” of the Stonewall riots with queer people. The NYPD caused the Stonewall Riots. The NYPD created the atmosphere that made the Christopher St Liberation March so necessary.

I’m sorry you and your fellow members feel demoralized. I understand why you do, but you must not feel dehumanized. Every one of you is welcome to march at Pride just like every other queer person — as individual humans and private citizens.

Now is the wrong time to march in an official capacity, because your official presence tends to pink wash the serious issues we as a community must resolve. Queer people, especially queer people of color, are not safe from the police in New York City or much of the rest of the U.S.

G.O.A.L.’s presence at Pride gives people the false impression that the NYPD is an ally to queer people. I know G.O.A.L. wants that to be true and works for that to be true, but it isn’t true. Not today.

Until that dream comes true, please, take your uniforms off and come celebrate and protest with us as the queer people you are, not as the cops you are.

Pride is unity, Pride is protest, Pride is for the marginalized

None of this should be controversial. LGBTQ people in the U.S. often sit in the crosshairs of oppression, not just because of gender presentation and sexual orientation, but because of race and ethnicity. None of us is free until all of us are free.

The most oppressed of us have the most to fear from the police. And until the day comes when oppression ends, then LGBTQ police officers need to stand with us privately as fellow oppressed people, not publicly as representatives of institutions of oppression.

It’s not time yet. We aren’t there yet. Can we all take the controversy down a notch and focus on achieving equality?

James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

This piece was originally published at Prism & Pen, ‘Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling.’ Republished by permission.

Continue Reading


Mar-A-Lago is Stonewall? Gay Republicans grovel for Trump

Trump today supports the most right-wing, anti-trans, anti-gay candidates for state office the nation has ever seen



Donald Trump takes a wrecking ball to democracy. Photo by DonkeyHotey. (CC BY-SA 2.0) Log Cabin Republicans logo superimposed by author.

By James Finn | DETROIT – If you can’t guess from my headline, I don’t much care for the Log Cabin Republicans. They’re an advocacy group of gay men and a smattering of lesbians who support Republican politics and say they deserve a place at the GOP table.

I don’t dislike the Log Cabin crowd because I’m a Democrat, though. When they formed in 1977 to fight as GOP insiders against a California law banning gay teachers in public schools, they were doing vital equality work. When they they stood up for same-sex marriage nationally, they accepted a damaging political cost.

The Log Cabin Republicans of today, however, are nothing like who they used to be.

I don’t dislike them because they’re Republicans; I oppose their implacable opposition to genuine equality for LGBTQ Americans. I recoil at their recent, rapid (rabid?) embrace of anti-transgender rhetoric imported from the U.K.-based LGB Alliance, which calls supporting trans people “homophobia” and “conversion therapy.”

Mostly though, I’m shocked at Log Cabin’s unquestioning embrace of former President Donald Trump. They endorsed him for president in 2020, and they’ve made clear they’ll support him in 2024. They’re encouraging him to run again, claiming he’s a great friend to them and other LGB (but not T) people.

The truth is that Trump presided over a federal LGBTQ equality rollback that gave landlords the nod to evict gay and trans tenants, let employers freely discriminate, told business owners they could refuse to serve trans and gay customers, let medical professionals do the same, and encouraged religious people of all stripes to treat gay and trans people as second- or third-class Americans.

Trump today supports the most right-wing, anti-trans, anti-gay candidates for state office the nation has ever seen — or “like we’ve never seen” to mimic Trumpian rhetoric.

Yesterday, the Log Cabin Republicans sank to a new low, comparing Donald Trump’s Florida resort to the Stonewall Inn

The Log Cabin crowd joined a chorus of Republicans yesterday complaining about the FBI executing a search warrant on Trump’s Mar-A-Lago golf resort, where he lives during the winter. Details are available in this news story from the Los Angeles Blade.

For background, the National Archives have been negotiating with Trump for months, asking him to comply with federal law (enacted in response to the corrupt Nixon administration) that makes all presidential communication property of the federal government. They say Trump and his aids illegally removed dozens of boxes of official documents from the White House, and they want them back.

However, sources inside the Department of Justice, speaking to reporters on background, say the federal warrant is NOT about routine documents.

They say the FBI is seeking top secret, compartmentalized intelligence (SCI) products with the potential to severely damage national security by revealing our most closely held sources and methods. For perspective, when I worked in national security as an Air Force intelligence officer, I was often briefed in dire terms that removing SCI documents from approved storage facilities would (not could) result in a long prison sentence, even in the absence of ill intent.

What do the Log Cabin Republicans think about the FBI investigation? See for yourself in a message they tweeted a few hours after Trump denounced the investigation.

Can we talk about The Stonewall Inn?

New York City cops raided the gay bar in 1969 as part of a routine arrangement with its Mafia owners. Mob bosses owned almost all gathering places for queer people in NYC in those days. The mob paid a regular kickback to the corrupt NYPD. In exchange, they didn’t enforce laws that banned people from wearing clothes of the “opposite” sex and that banned same-sex couples from dancing together in places where alcohol was served.

Once in a while, the NYPD would stage a raid for show, to let the public think they were enforcing vice laws. Usually, they tipped the bar off in advance and staff would warn patrons to go elsewhere for the evening. Probably by mistake, that warning didn’t happen on June 28, 1969. The NYPD showed up with a paddy wagon to find lesbians, gay men and “street queens” packing Stonewall.

When the cops started arresting the queer people who used the bar as a safe haven, a riot started that consumed Greenwich Village for three days and nights. It wasn’t the first time relatively powerless queer people fought back and refused to go peacefully to jail, but the incident captured the national imagination and fueled a movement to fight for freedom and equality.

Stonewall stands for freedom for the powerless. The Mar-A-Lago warrant fights privilege for the powerful

Donald Trump is angry that a federal judge approved a warrant seeking evidence of a serious felony. His supporters are just as angry, some of them calling for violence, with the hashtag #lockandload trending on Twitter.

Clearly, Trump believes he’s so powerful that he’s above the law, and so do his supporters. They’re claiming Trump is being persecuted by political opponents, suggesting the FBI executed the warrant to plant evidence.

But that seems more than far fetched.

The Democratic Party has been funding primary candidates Trump supports, on the (some say dubious) theory that they will be easier to beat in November. The Democratic establishment WANTS Trump to run again in 2024, believing they’ll trounce him more soundly than in 2020.

The FBI investigation is apolitical, premised on the idea that no politician is so powerful that the law does not apply to them. It’s led by FBI Director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee and Republican who is a member of the very conservative Federalist Society.

Trump has a long history of holding himself above the law, plus a history of releasing classified intelligence in the face of national security requests not to do so. Obviously, national security officials want to make sure he can’t harm U.S. interests. He arguably had that prerogative as president. He does not today as a private citizen.

Trump almost certainly violated national security laws

Legal experts told Business Insider on background that the FBI likely found “pulverizing” evidence when searching Trump’s Mar-A-Lago office. They wouldn’t have sought a warrant if they weren’t sure what they’d find.

As USA Today columnist and former federal prosecutor Michael J. Stern tweeted today, “I have written hundreds of search warrants. Lawyers and people whose homes are being searched are routinely not present during the search. That Trump is now talking about “planted” evidence means he knows there is something damning they found.”

The Log Cabin Republicans don’t care if Trump is guilty. They’ve joined the GOP cult of personality.

It’s bad enough that the Log Cabin crew have abandoned their own principles, or at least what used to be their principles. But what they’re doing today is worse. They’re endorsing the Trump personality cult, seeking personal power at his coattails rather than fighting for freedom and equality for LGBTQ people.

They join many other Republicans praising Trump no matter what he says or does. They join a loud GOP chorus singing the praises of a man who would be dictator, a man who told General John Kelly that he wished his other generals would be loyal to him like Nazi generals were loyal to Adolf Hitler.

Log Cabin joins a chorus of loyalists who cheered and whistled at last week’s CPAC convention in Texas as Trump spoke for two hours providing what Texas Monthly calls “A Violent Blueprint for Seizing Power,” including sweeping plans to replace civil servants with Trump loyalists.

At the same convention, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán earned whistles and cheers as loud as Trump’s, praising authoritarian nationalism antithetical to American democratic ideals. An eastern European despot shared a Texas stage with Trump, and Republicans cheered them both.

Perhaps Log Cabin Republicans should think a little harder about Texas, where they were recently barred from participating in the state Republican Convention, which produced a platform calling gay people “abnormal” and rejecting trans identities.

That’s the Republican Party Trump is empowering. Those are the candidates he’s endorsing. Orbán’s rabid anti-LGBTQ ideology is WHY he was at CPAC, why he was cheered so loudly.

So, what’s up, Log Cabin Republicans? What have you done with your principles and integrity? Why are you slavishly supporting a man turning the GOP into a howling pack of anti-gay, anti-trans wolves?

Ask yourselves that as you think about the raid on the Stonewall Inn, about how it was an attempt by the powerful to crush the freedom of the marginalized and the powerless.

Think about that as you consider how powerful Republicans today are rallying behind Trump to try to crush us again.

The rest of you? Please get out in November and vote Democrat like your lives depend on it. Because they just might.


James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]


The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

Continue Reading


Legislation may negatively impact LGBTQ+ kids already feeling isolated

Why our policymakers should think twice before passing legislation that may inhibit access for queer teens to social media



Graphic courtesy of the Grant Halliburton Foundation

By Isaias Hernandez | LOS ANGELES – It seems difficult to comprehend that living in California in 2022, coming out as queer is still terrifying. With homophobic and transphobic legislation being introduced and passed in states across the country, including Florida’s law that allows parents to sue a school district if a teacher says the word “gay,” it is easy to assume that the state of California is far removed from that.

Unfortunately, laws like these in California are not an impossibility. Let’s not forget, it was just a short 14 years ago that Golden State voters chose to ban same-sex marriage by passing Proposition 8. It’s an unfortunate reality, but the decision to fully come out may never feel completely safe for many of us – which is why finding a community where we feel welcomed and accepted when we are young is so important, and why our policymakers should think twice before passing legislation that may inhibit access for queer teens to social media. 

Like many other queer teens who are also people of color, my high school years were hard. I did not feel safe being myself at home or at school, and on the precipice of adulthood, instead of finding my voice, I retreated and shrank myself to fit the role I thought I was expected to play. And then finally in 2019, I created a place where I could be my true self: a queer, brown, environmental justice fighter.  

When I created my Instagram account, @QueerBrownVegan, I was told that I shouldn’t talk about my queerness and that my environmental activism would be diminished by my queer identity. Knowing what I do about LGBTQI+ communities and the outsized impact the climate crisis and environmental injustices have on this vulnerable population, though, solidified my choice to keep my queerness front and center. 

I relied on the social connectedness of Instagram to create my online presence and to discover people who had similar interests as me. The photos, videos, and accounts I searched for would lead to recommendations of other like-minded people. It opened an entirely new world to me – and led to me feeling accepted and seen. This platform has also helped me to hold space for others, too. When young, queer environmentalists find my account, they too can feel like they’ve finally found a space of their own where they won’t feel judged or be bullied for being who they truly are. 

The community I have built on Instagram is one I wish I could have found when I was a teenager. This community has not only allowed me to be myself but also to forgive myself for the years I spent hating who I was. Social media gives teens from marginalized communities – brown, black, queer, disabled, fat, whatever and whoever they are – a place to find a community where they feel less alone and less marginalized. 

Recently, there has been a discussion in California’s Capitol about how to best keep teens safe on social media. To Sacramento, I say this: Queer teens are not safe when they are being ridiculed at school, they are not safe when their parents abuse them for a sexuality or gender they did not choose, and queer teens are not safe when they cannot be themselves. Social media is sometimes the safest space for queer teens who have nowhere else to be themselves. 

Bills like California Assembly Bill 2408 (AB 2408), that would impose strict standards on social media companies, could prevent young people from using social media at all, and that could have a dire impact on an already isolated young person who is looking for information or support from a community of people they otherwise may never find. With 45% of LGBTQ youth having seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, that is not a risk lawmakers should be willing to take.

I urge lawmakers to think about queer youth and youth from other marginalized communities – listen to their stories and understand the importance of being able to create a community where they can finally be themselves, unapologetically.


Courtesy of Isaias Hernandez

Isaias Hernandez is an environmental educator & founder of QueerBrownVegan.

Queer Brown Vegan is an environmental media platform that discusses the intersections around climate, LGBTQ issues, and food.

He seeks to advance the discourse around climate literacy through an intersectional media lens.

Continue Reading


My Michigan neighbors shutter “pornographic” public library

Their definition is peculiar: LGBTQ = Porno. You know book banning is out of control when people fight to close public libraries



Burning book photo licensed from Adobe Stock.

By James Finn | DETROIT – Think that book banning doesn’t happen in the United States, that it’s only the stuff of dystopian fiction? Think again! Hear about that Iowa library that closed early this summer because three head librarians quit, one after the other? They and the rest of the staff got tired (and frightened) of being called groomers and pedophiles by loud homophobes and racists who don’t want ANYBODY in their community reading books about LGBTQ people or about the U.S. history of slavery and segregation.

You know book banning is out of control when people fight to close public libraries

Some community members celebrated when the library shut its doors. Mission accomplished!

They were not fighting for space to express their own opinions. They were demanding their neighbors be barred from reading differing opinions. They were willing to make the lives of professional librarians hell — including a gay librarian who became a target of particular harassment, from the way he dressed to the way he spoke.

This NBC Newlong read is instructive and frightening: (LINK)

Last week, the story came home to me in Michigan

For a little background first, PEN America says U.S. public-library book banning has reached heights they’ve never seen before:

Today, books in the US are under profound attack. They are disappearing from library shelves, being challenged in droves, being decreed off limits by school boards, legislators, and prison authorities. And everywhere, it is the books that have long fought for a place on the shelf that are being targeted. Books by authors of color, by LGBTQ+ authors, by women. Books about racism, sexuality, gender, history.

In 1922, literary luminaries like Willa Cather, Eugene O’Neill, Robert Frost, Ellen Glasgow, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Benchley, and Booth Tarkington founded PEN America to foster connections around the world and fight book banning. I wonder if they imagined that a century later the problem would be worse than ever?

They are trying to groom our children to believe that it’s OK to have these sinful desires. [Shutting the library down] is not a political issue, it’s a Biblical issue.

While Pen fights community efforts to remove books from libraries, a Michigan town near me responded by going after the library itself.

Jamestown, Michigan voters opted last Tuesday to defund their library rather than tolerate books by or about LGBTQ people — not even if the books are in the adult section of the library with a jacket cover “warning,” not even if the books are behind the counter and have to be requested from a librarian.

“Gender Queer” cover art from Goodreads

It all started early this year when groups of up to 50 people began attending meetings of the elected library board, first demanding that the memoir-comic Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe be removed from the library’s collection, then moving on to a list of about 90 other books, almost the library’s entire collection of books about same-sex relationships and transgender people.

Then, just like in Iowa, two staff members quit their jobs. Former library director Amber McLain told Bridge Michigan she resigned after being accused of being a pedophile and becoming the target of daily online harassment.

She says the the details are ugly:

I had to change my name on Facebook for a time to prevent messages that were starting to come in. I never read any of them fully, but it was the typical fare — that I’m evil, that I’m indoctrinating kids. In March, a woman came into the library filming on her cell phone. She said she was looking for ‘that pedophile librarian’ and ‘the freak with the pink hair.’

Residents cite religious beliefs for voting to shut down library

A coalition of conservative Jamestown residents began campaigning against funding for the library in May while protesting a Pride Month book display. When the couldn’t convince the library board to remove LGBTQ-themed books from the shelves, not satisfied with compromises to restrict access to the books, they took to the streets to convince their neighbors the town would be better off without a public library at all.

Yard signs urging residents to vote no on funding the library popped up all over town, one sign across the street from the library, another in the lawn of a library board member who did not respond to Bridge Michigan’s request for comment.

One homemade sign said, “50 percent increase to GROOM our kids? Vote NO on Library!”

Amanda Ensing, one of the organizers of the drive to defund down the library, emerged from the library last Tuesday after, in a twist of irony, casting her ballot there. She told a reporter, “They are trying to groom our children to believe that it’s OK to have these sinful desires. [Shutting the library down] is not a political issue, it’s a Biblical issue.”

She did not explain why her private religious beliefs should restrict access to books for people whose religious ideas differ from hers.

She won, though.

Voters said no to the funding, gutting the library’s 2023–24 $245,000 budget. After this year, the lights are likely to go off and the doors to close, permanently, according to Larry Walton, library board president.

“I wasn’t expecting anything like this,” he told reporters. “The library is the center of the community. For individuals to be short sighted to close that down over opposing LGBTQ is very disappointing.”

Many Michigan public libraries and school libraries have found themselves under community fire over books with LGBTQ themes, but last Tuesday is the first time a Michigan community voted to close a library because a library board refused to ban books.

Let’s talk about pornography, what it is and what it isn’t

A common theme in library censorship debates this year is pornography. The people in Iowa and Michigan who tried to force library boards to ban LGBTQ-themed books did so on the grounds that the books are “pornographic,” citing descriptions of sexual acts or sexualized images. One of the drawings in Gender Queer, for example, features frontal nudity, though calling that clinical drawing porn is beyond silly.

It’s true that some of the books they object to, like Jonathan Evison’s Lawn Boy, at the top of censorship lists this year, include passages about sex and sexuality, but to characterize them as pornographic is also beyond silly.

And it’s blatant hypocrisy.

I keep scanning banned book lists for mentions of beloved YA classics like John Green’s The Fault in Our StarsThat novel, and many like it, treat teenage (straight) sexuality with respect and sensitivity but don’t shy away from depicting it.

I hesitate to write this, because I don’t want to give book-banning activists any ideas, but Green’s novel and many like it contain much more frank discussion of sexuality than Lawn Boy or other books activists target over LGBTQ material.

Curiously, one California middle school briefly pulled The Fault in Our Stars from library shelves in 2014 due to parental concern, mostly arguing that 11–13 year olds are too young to read about teenage cancer and death. The school board voted to restore the book about two months later.

Green’s response to the censorship was sardonic and on point:

I guess I am both happy and sad.

I am happy because apparently young people in Riverside, California will never witness or experience mortality since they won’t be reading my book, which is great for them.

But I am also sad because I was really hoping I would be able to introduce the idea that human beings die to the children of Riverside, California and thereby crush their dreams of immortality.

I remember reading The Fault in Our Stars shortly after it came out and feeling a great deal of awe for Green — about how he mined beauty and insight from a story about a terminally ill girl. As far as I know, few people ever claimed that her loving (eventually sexual) relationship with a boy qualifies the novel as pornography.

Porn? What a silly idea!

The novel is art, though it contains sexual passages. It’s not porn because it contains important literary value, namely an exploration of mortality, grief, and joy — where you’d least expect to find joy.

Well, I’m here to tell you that Lawn Boy and most of the other LGBTQ-themed books topping this year’s ban lists contain far less sex than A Fault in Our Stars and other popular, non-controversial books for teens.

Lawn Boy is not porn. It’s a novel that features three or four non-graphic sexual paragraphs out of 320 pages that don’t talk about sex. Critics and readers love the book, which is also joyful in unexpected ways, written by a literary phenom with important insight into the human condition and certain contradictions of American culture.

That one of the main characters turns out to be gay at the end of the book is almost incidental.

Porn? What a silly idea!

But according to my neighbors in Jamestown, queer sexuality is porn by default. Is dystopia coming true?

My neighbors hate Lawn Boy so much they’ll close their library rather than leave open any possibility that somebody might read it. Making their own choices isn’t enough. They insist they must control what other people read and what other people’s children read.

Trans characters and lesbian/gay characters having sex or talking about having sex is, to them, pornography by definition. Cis/straight people having sex or talking about having sex is not. Maybe they don’t like that either, but they didn’t campaign to close the library over The Fault in Our Stars.

Remember Jack Petocz, one of the Florida high school students who rallied teenagers to protest against Governor DeSantis’s Don’t Say Gay law? PEN America honored him this year with their Freedom of Expression Courage Award after he campaigned to get books about LGBTQ people and Black people into students’ hands.

Jack says kids deserve to read about themselves and about people different from them. He says banning books is un-American. He says representation matters.

I agree with Jack and PEN.

Most people do. Banning books is antithetical to American values, contrary to our traditions of freedom, curiosity, and education. Most of us WANT to understand people who are different from us, not put our hands over our eyes and pretend those people don’t exist.

It’s come to this: Christian conservatives in a town near me just voted to shutter their library rather than tolerate books about people different from them.

Will you raise your voices with me in defense of books and libraries?

I can’t believe I need to ask, but according to PEN, the need is greater today than at any time in American history.


James Finn is a columnist for the LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]


The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.

Continue Reading

Follow Us @LosAngelesBlade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts