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Some want LGBTQ themes hidden from children in Greenville, but advocates speak out

Greenville News logo Greenville News 2 days ago Tim Carlin, Greenville News
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LGBTQ+ advocates spoke out Thursday against legislation that Greenville County Council member Joe Dill plans to propose to require books with LGBTQ+ themes to be removed from the children's section of Greenville County libraries.

"Authoritarian governments ban books, not democratic republics,"  said Leslie Johnson, who founded Greenville's chapter of PFLAG, an organization supporting LGBTQ+ families and allies, nearly 30 years ago.

Johnson was one of 23 local residents who spoke out against such a proposed ban before a crowded room of onlookers.

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No one at the public-comment session spoke in favor of banning books.

Six County Council members were present at the start of Thursday's meeting, but that number shrunk to four by the meeting's end.

The public outcry came after the Greenville County Republican Party passed a unanimous resolution on Sept. 12 urging County Council to remove books with LGBTQ+ themes and what County GOP Chairman Jeff Davis called "sexually explicit" content from the children's section of county libraries and place them with adult books.

Here's how kids can still read them:LGBTQ books are being banned from schools.

The GOP's resolution also called for an investigation into the LGBTQ+ displays that were erected at county libraries in June for Pride Month. Davis said those displays, which were taken down and then reinstalled after community pushback, were part of the inspiration for the party's resolution.

Dill told The Greenville News before Thursday's meeting that he had taken up the Grenville County GOP's request and had asked the County Attorney to draft a resolution he hoped would be ready by the council's next meeting on Oct. 4.

Dill said the resolution will be similar to the one passed by the county GOP but perhaps with certain changes in language.

County Attorney Mark Tollison did not immediately respond to a call requesting comment about the legislation.

Susan Ward, the current president of PFLAG GVL, said before the meeting that removing these books would create harm for LGBTQ+ children, and for children in LGBTQ+ families.

It is critically important for LGBTQ+ children to see themselves represented in the world around them, Ward said.

"We just want these kids to have the opportunity to read books that show families like theirs, that show kids who feel the same way that they do, that show them that they are not alone, they not broken, they are not anomalous," Ward said.

Equally important, she said, is the ability of children to understand that other kids and families may look different than their own.

"It does not do anyone any good to try to put forth the illusion that there are not queer people in the world and should not be," Ward said.

Davis said his intention is not to ban these books but rather to allow parents to decide what material their kids can read.

"We're not talking about banning books; we're not talking about burning books," Davis said. "All we're asking is that there be some better checks and balances."

But Tyler Prescott, executive director of the Upstate SC LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce, said he doesn't know of any kids who check out library books without their parent's consent anyway.

Prescott said that this latest GOP resolution combined with the previous library issues add up to an exclusion of the LGBTQ+ community in Greenville County.

Allen Chaney, director of legal advocacy for the ACLU of South Carolina, cautioned Council members Thursday night that passing legislation to ban books would be against the law.

"Book banning is illegal, and it's been illegal for a long time," Chaney said.

During the meeting, councilmember Ennis Fant attempted to assuage the audience that County Council would not pass a book ban, was it to come before the governing body.

"I can promise you, if it comes, it won't go very far," Fant said to applause from the audience. "I can promise you there aren't seven votes to do that in 2022." 

One of the youngest speakers Thursday night was first-grader Polk Scott, accompanied by his mom, Amanda.

Polk told council members there were alternatives to instituting a book ban.

"If you don’t like a book," he said, "you don't have to read it." 

Tim Carlin covers county government, growth and development for The Greenville News. Follow him on Twitter @timcarlin_, and get in touch with him at TCarlin@gannett.com. You can support his work by subscribing to The Greenville News at greenvillenews.com/subscribe.

This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Some want LGBTQ themes hidden from children in Greenville, but advocates speak out

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