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Upstate takes center stage in LGBTQ+ books debate

At the heart of the debate is whether materials dealing with LGBTQ+ themes are inherently sexual in nature.
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At the heart of the debate is whether materials dealing with LGBTQ+ themes are inherently sexual in nature.

This Book is Gay.

Daddy and Dada.

And the book that started a public fight in Greenville County, It’s Perfectly Normal.

These titles all deal with the subject of homosexuality – as do most of the 21 other books currently under review by the county Library Board. And they all have been on Greenville County Library shelves for years.

What’s newer is the fight over where in the library’s 12 branches these books should be shelved.

As is happening around the U.S., communities are battling over the question of whether materials with LGBTQ+ themes are appropriate for children. Some say these books, by the fact that they discuss sexual orientation, are inherently sexual in nature. Others say that that perspective conflates sexual identity and orientation with explicit sex; they call the argument a dog whistle that is being used to censor the LGBTQ+ community.

In Greenville, County Councilman Joe Dill led an effort to pass a resolution that would have mandated moving 24 books, most dealing with LGBTQ+ themes, from the children’s sections of the county’s libraries. That effort failed on Nov. 1, when the council shot the resolution down 9 to 3. Council Chairman William Meadows said of the proposal, “I don’t think that’s our authority.”

The vote, however, effectively punted what to do about these books back to the Greenville County Library Board of Trustees (no member of which returned calls for comment on this story).

Advocates for leaving the books where they’ve been are facing a growing battle, however. The question of what place gay- and trans-themed materials have in a public space and their appropriateness where children are concerned is popping up all over South Carolina. Schools and public libraries in Pickens, Horry, and Beaufort counties have already had similar discussions; and concurrent with the arguments happening in Greenville, citizens, office holders, and advocates on both sides of the issue are trying to figure it all out in Spartanburg County.

For those in support of removing the books from children’s spaces in Greenville, the issue is a matter of morality and, often, religion. At its Oct. 31 meeting, the Greenville County Council heard input from residents who cited their Christian faith and the Bible in their arguments as to why the books in question are inappropriate for children.

Their arguments were countered by LGBTQ+ advocates who said, among other points, that the Bible itself is filled with explicit verses that would render it inappropriate for children.

Under all these arguments is the question of who has the right to get materials that represent communities that have not always been embraced by larger society. Library and county officials have not argued that the books under review must be removed from the libraries, but rather moved to a different section, away from where children browse shelves.

Gay and trans advocates say that moving books – particularly those written with kids in mind – is still a form of censorship that marginalizes the LGBTQ+ community, by labeling the community as something “other.”

The Greenville County Library Board is expected to make its recommendations about where to shelve the books under review at its Dec. 5 meeting.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.