Activists misrepresent Biloxi council’s discussion on LGBTQIA+ books at the public library

BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) – Name calling and mudslinging just entered the debate about content inside Harrison County libraries. The newest barbs come from the Mississippi Rising Coalition.

Wednesday, the group sent out an email to supporters and made a social media post accusing three Biloxi council members of using “ill-informed, homophobic, transphobic, and classist rhetoric” at Tuesday’s budget meeting.

The post then included quotes from Ward 3′s Dixie Newman, Ward 7′s Nathan Barrett, and Ward 1′s George Lawrence where they compare LGBTQIA+ reading materials to pornography. The only problem is none of the quotes were actual, direct quotes said in the budget meeting. Rather, they were loose interpretations of what the council members said.

Reading the succinct quotes provided by the Mississippi Rising Coalition, you might think council members were fired up and ready to withhold funding from the library if LGBTQIA+ content isn’t hidden away from children. But if you were at the meeting, or watched discussion it online, you saw a calm about what’s appropriate to be on display.

For instance, Newman was incorrectly quoted as saying, “The library is not a place to go to get pornography, sex toys and condoms. If they need something like that, they can buy it on Amazon.”

Here’s what she actually said: “I think that the libraries, as I grew up, they were always there for knowledge on jobs and curriculum, projects, reports, things like that. So, anything special, other than that, I think that is what Amazon is for. To me, these books that I saw pictures of, of two boys kissing, or even a boy and a girl kissing, is no different – on display – not just in the library, but on display, is no different than going to a grocery store and seeing a display of sex toys and condoms. I mean, it’s just inappropriate. So, I think, just like if I had children, I can cencortize [sic] the television, I should be able to do the same with books. If I have my child go to the library, I shouldn’t have to worry about what book they pick up, or what are they looking at? Things like that. In my opinion, it’s one thing if you’re going to have knowledge on these types of books, but to be on display is another. So I would like to see the new policies in place.”

Similarly, Barrett was incorrectly quoted as saying, “This material should be treated like pornography in the convenience stores and hidden from children.”

What he actually said was, “I think that something just being out in the open for a kid to see, there are certain things that we have to protect children from that are sexual in nature. We’ve done that regardless of what it is. I mean, you go to a book store now and you don’t have a Playboy or Hustler magazine display out in the middle of a book store. They have them there, but they’re hidden away where you intentionally go to those things. And so I do have some issues with some of those books that we out for a display when someone walked into the room. And I think that we have a duty as, I’m not saying don’t have them. But I think if you have them they need to be in an area where someone intentionally goes to those, and it’s not something where we’re basically indoctrinating, or opening up minds that may not be open to something like that otherwise. And so that does cause me some concern, and as soon as there are some policies accepted I’d like to see those as well.”

In both cases, the council members expressed conservative opinions about what librarians should choose to display. But neither called for LGBTQIA+ content to be removed from the public library.

The City of Biloxi posts recordings of its council meetings on YouTube, so you can watch the exchange and judge the tone of the discussion for yourself.

As for funding the library, Mississippi Rising Coalition’s Wednesday post said, “A library budget should never be held hostage so that a public service can be manipulated to fit a bigoted agenda.”

But council members were never going to vote on funding at Tuesday’s meeting. The budget workshop was just to discuss the Harrison County Library System’s needs and Biloxi’s contribution to the system’s overall budget. The council members who spoke all expressed their support for the HCLS and the work they do for the community.

After receiving some criticism, the Mississippi Rising Coalition edited its original post to no longer say that the “council failed to approve the City funds requested by the Harrison County Library System.”

Instead, Lea Campbell, founder and president of the group wrote, “We have updated the original post to reflect that the funding by HCLS yesterday has not been voted on. The library budget will be voted on as part of the entire city budget in late August-September timeframe. Yesterday’s meeting was a special call meeting to discuss the HCLS funding request for the upcoming fiscal year, and during the budget meeting, the council members referenced chose to use it as a platform for expression of their personal views conflating the Pride Month display with pornographic materials and resources that are inappropriate for children.”

Mississippi Rising Coalition is still urging people to contact city council members and ask that they approve the library system’s funding request.

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