Rural Iowa Town Tears Itself Apart Over a Harvey Milk Book

Paul Mansfield Photography/Getty
Paul Mansfield Photography/Getty

Tensions have been running high in a rural Iowa town after its local library showcased a children’s book about the slain gay rights advocate Harvey Milk, sparking a nasty campaign involving homophobic letters posted on officials’ doors and a contentious town meeting filled with baseless accusations of child grooming.

The furor kicked off when the Logan Public Library showcased the children’s book Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders for Pride Month in June. The seemingly innocuous display lit an anti-LGBTQ+ match for some Logan-area residents.

Homophobic letters began appearing on residential doors of library board members and town officials, including Mayor Clint McDonald, Logan City Clerk Marilyn Keizer told The Daily Beast Tuesday.

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The five-page letter, obtained by The Daily Beast, read, “Please weigh the consequences of your decision to display this book… The American Library Association clearly has an agenda to push homosexual ideas… There are no resources on exiting the homosexual lifestyle—only ridicule of them.”

The letter also repeated common homophobic falsehoods about homosexuality being linked to pedophilia, same-sex intercourse, promiscuity, and a cause of mood and anxiety disorders, alongside photos from a children’s drag queen story hour at an unidentified library.

Then in an Aug. 10 Facebook post, the library was forced to push back on rumors rapidly spreading about the library’s alleged agenda.

“We have NO PLANS to host a ‘Drag Queen Story Time’ or any related programming. We never have,” the post read. “We have added NO MATERIALS regarding specifically LGBTQIA+ or gender identity related topics since our current director assumed her position.”

Logan Public Library Director Kate Simmons said the Harvey Milk book had been in the library since 2018 with no objections before June.

“The reality of what is happening in our town is a lot of lies and rumors and gossip that have gotten out of hand,” she told The Daily Beast Tuesday. “The public forum was to give people a chance to speak their mind.”

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That public forum took place on Monday night at the library board’s regular meeting, and locals did not hold back from speaking their minds.

Former Logan Public Library director Jennifer Joy Andregg, who resigned on July 9 for unclear reasons, demanded the library change the way it targets books towards children, a move she felt would help ensure children’s safety.

Other community members echoed Andregg’s sentiments.

“I think we have to make a distinction between having (LGBTQ+) resources available and promoting them,” one community member said, according to local outlet KETV Omaha. “And when you put something up in a prominent position in the library you are promoting it.”

Another community member argued it was not up to libraries to promote certain books. “It's a slippery slope,” the person said. “And I believe that you could read whatever you want to read, that's fine, but it is the parents’ role.”

But local author Kailee Coleman countered the calls for censorship, telling attendees she wrote her children’s book And That’s Their Family! to teach kids about diverse families like those with two mothers or two fathers, or children who are raised by grandparents, step-parents, foster parents, or aunts and uncles.

In a very “Phoebe from Friends sort of way, the book started as a song that she posted on TikTok, Coleman later told The Daily Beast. But she said she soon realized the need to extend the conversation about inclusion in her small Iowa town, which she said tends to operate in a closed-minded bubble.

“It’s a song that I wrote…to teach my daycare kids about different family structures because we're in rural Iowa,” Coleman said. “And we don’t see all sorts of diversity.”

Following Monday’s board meeting, Andregg posted a Facebook video demanding the library ban drag queen children’s programming or “children’s displays focused on sexuality,” and proposed a policy regarding the priority in which books should be ordered for the library.

In the video, she seemingly equated drag queens to sex offenders, and implied members of the LGBTQ+ community had mental disorders.

“The whole point of this policy is that we don’t want things getting slipped by us, things the board would never have approved of,” she said before recalling the horror of someone once asking the sexual orientation of her 13-year-old child.

“Which is basically saying, ‘Who do you want to have intercourse with?’” Andregg said, minimizing the concept of sexual identity. “I don’t want my 13-year-old asked that question. And then when she doesn’t know, they call her asexual, and she’s not. She’s a normal, healthy child.”

In an emailed comment to The Daily Beast about the Harvey Milk book on display, Andregg said, “Some of us asked for there not to be [a] Children’s program or Children’s displays on sexuality. I led that group. I don’t like how this in your face sexuality effects my daughter. Even a book like “The Birds the Bee’s and the Bernstein [sic] Bears” doesn’t belong on the front counter.”

Simmons told The Daily Beast that the library had no intention of hosting a drag queen hour and that most of residents’ concerns over LGTBQ+ material were completely blown out of proportion. She said there is already a process for challenging library books, too.

“To request removal, or any change…there's a form. ...It comes with the library's mission and our collection development policy,” Simmons said.

She said a form has to be submitted on a challenged book, the board reviews the book, the person who submitted the complaint has the opportunity to explain their disapproval of the book, and then the board votes on it.

As of Tuesday, the children’s book on Harvey Milk has not been removed from the Logan Public Library.

“The library board decided over a month before the meeting that they would follow the law and keep the book,” Andregg said.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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