Conservative groups in Iowa are demanding a library in Orange City shelve LGBTQ materials, including books and DVDs, separately to everything else, claiming they could "harm" children.
The groups equate the reading of such books to drug use and eating Tide pods.
On flyers, Sioux County Conservatives and Reformation Iowa particularly singled out the books David Levithan's Two Guys Kissing, Gayle E. Pitman's This Day in June and Christine Baldacchino's Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress.
A separate list posted by Reformation Iowa highlighted 36, as the group put it, "recently acquired books and videos promoting or normalizing transgender/homosexuality."
This list included popular TV shows, books and movies such as the Oscar-winning film Moonlight, alongside Modern Family, Grace and Frankie, and Brokeback Mountain. Randy Shilts' acclaimed AIDS-era book And the Band Played On, the Oscar-winning film Milk, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show are also on the list.
According to a petition filed to GoPetition.com, the groups want to “approve the labeling and separate shelving of materials that deal primarily with LGBTQ issues so patrons and parents can be fully informed and exercise discretion when selecting library materials to check out for themselves or their family.”
The conservative groups' protest comes as Iowa's State Legislature debates a proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) for the state. The bill was approved Monday by the committee on Local Government, and has been placed on the senatorial calendar.
The executive director of LGBT campaign group One Iowa said the bill would hurt the economy. “We are hopeful that the religious exemptions bill will not pass,” said Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel. “Iowa's business leaders have spoken out strongly against the bill and the negative economic impact it would have on our state.”
The Orange City Library controversy began two weeks ago when a psychology professor at Northwestern College, Dr. Terry Chi started a petition of LGBTQ children's books to protect "Christian values."
Chi argued that Orange City Pride, the first of which took place last year, and the LGBTQ materials gathered at the library are "non-biblical activities" that "slowly eroded" the town's religious beliefs.
"I’m always trying to align myself with the God of the Holy Bible," said Chi, in an email to The Daily Beast about LGBTQ-themed books. "They are mixed in with other books for children, teens, young adults. I’d like them to be put in a section by themselves."
Paul D. Castillo, a senior attorney and student rights strategist at LGBT campaign group Lambda Legal said the state may face legal action.
“Subjecting books with LGBTQ characters or families to special scrutiny subjects places the library at risk of a federal lawsuit,” Castillo said in an email to The Daily Beast. “Every member of the community should have equal access to a diversity of ideas, viewpoints, and opportunities to learn about the world.”
In an email Chi told the Daily Beast, "I’d like them (LGBTQ-themed books) to be put in a section by themselves like magazines have their own section, graphic novels have their own section in the back, and board-books have their own section. It is not as if the entire library is a mixed salad of books. I don’t think we are asking for something that is quite radical."
Chi argued that the books should be shelved differently because it is harmful to children.
“Saying we are homophobes for requesting what we are requesting in the petition is like prohibiting a child from smoking a cigarette as addiction-phobic,” said Chi. “I believe sexual orientation is primarily genetically determined. I do not see the biological trait as sinful, but I do see unfettered homosexual behavior as sinful.”
Chi said that, without his consent, Sioux County Conservatives published flyers with "inflammatory rhetoric." In a post, last Saturday Chi denounced the group. He has since closed the petition.
"Unfortunately, it has come to my attention that people associated with Sioux County Conservatives (SCC) have placed a very aggressive and antagonistic flyer at our community members' doorsteps," wrote Chi in a post on GoPetition.com. "Other than my petition, NOTHING on the second side of the flyer was shown to me prior to it being distributed and I was not consulted on the content of the other side. I disavow 100% of what the second side of the flyer discussed."
According to the flier, the LGBT community has a “higher incidence of many risk factors linked to cancer," and "are more likely to encounter domestic violence and turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with that abuse.”
Chi has faced backlash over the controversial petition. This week he was sent a bag of penis-shaped candies from an anonymous student with a note that read: "There are only two reasons you hate gay marriage. One you're stupid or two you're secretly worried that dicks are delicious."
Jacob Hall, a board member of Sioux County Conservatives, admitted the groups placed information on the flier without the professor’s approval. Hall said it was to advertise the library board meeting.
"Some of these books are targeting Pre-K," said Hall in a phone interview with The Daily Beast. “We don't have books about drug use or how to eat a Tide pod or anything else that would be harmful to children."
This week, Orange City Library's board held an open-discussion about the books.
The Library's director, Amanda Vazquez, has also been targeted by Reformation Iowa. The group has posted screenshots of her social media posts alleging her support of LGBT activism. Vazquez declined to comment to the Daily Beast.
Mike Goll, one of the organizers of Orange City's first LGBT Pride event, which took place last year, said Reformation Iowa is "predatory."
"They are seeking to out queer advocates,” Goll said.
Goll and his husband David Klennert said they were shocked by the flyer.
After receiving it, Goll said he messaged Chi and told him the flyers were "aggressive."
In messages via Facebook, Chi apologized for the flyers. "He said he tried to seek conversation with people who were more like-minded in questioning queer books," said Goll of the original petition.
Sarah McLachlan, president of House of Anansi Press and Groundwood Books, said they are committed to publishing work that "reflects the world back to children and young adults," and will remain "diverse and inclusive." Representatives for Levithan and Pitman were not immediately available for comment.
Goll added that LGBTQ kids in Iowa often struggle with their sexuality.
"If you grow up in a really conservative county it's your world. it's a lot of shame that comes with it for LGBTQ kids," Goll said. "To have civil rights protections stripped away for the sake of religious liberty is a crawl back."
He added, "Having visibility in literature is really encouraging. I know it would have been for me. That would have meant a lot to know I wasn't alone."