Public libraries are essential. Don’t let those who oppose inclusive values target them.
There are some who would rather do away with libraries and the freedom of public space altogether. We now see this happening in Downers Grove where a drag queen bingo event was canceled due to threats of violence.
My husband and I chose to live in Downers Grove for a number of reasons: a charming downtown, Metra access, good schools, parks, and other public services — including the library. For much of my life, I’ve based where I live on my proximity to the local library. Moving to Downers Grove was no exception.
Libraries have long been community pillars not only for their lending materials, but also for their services and programming. In an increasingly privatized society, libraries are one of the few remaining sources of free and accessible public space and information.
But there are some who would rather do away with libraries and the freedom of public space altogether. We now see this happening in Downers Grove, after a recent village board meeting.
The public comment portion of the Sept. 6 Downers Grove Village Board meeting lasted about 90 minutes and mainly focused on the library’s plans for a drag queen bingo event for teens. Those opposed to the event — many from the group Awake Illinois — used homophobic language. They booed Mayor Bob Barnett as he tried to keep order. In doing so, they tried to silence a free and public discussion of issues in our community.
Those who spoke in favor of the event emphasized that LGBTQ teens are often the most vulnerable children in our community, and stressed the importance of creating a safe environment for them to express themselves.
Now, under threats of violence, the library has decided to cancel the event. The concern for staff and patron safety is so severe that moving the event to a private location is no longer an option.
The outrage of those who opposed this event isn’t truly about the event itself. It’s about whether our community will welcome people into public spaces who cannot be easily categorized as white, heterosexual, or cisgender. It’s about requiring a certain allegiance to religious doctrine in spaces where there should be freedom of expression. It’s about control.
Libraries have long been targets of radicalized groups that claim to want lower taxes, but really want to cut free public services. These same groups wish to impose a radicalized religious hierarchy in public spaces by causing disruptions and moral panic. We’ve seen how these groups start with book bans then expand to libraries or any other group that embraces equity, diversity or inclusion. Ballot measures targeting libraries have cropped up in Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, South Carolina and several other states, which if approved would deprive communities of intellectual and cultural enrichment.
Downers Grove became their next target. If we don’t hold onto our inclusive values here, the opposition knows how easy it will be to continue with the same playbook across the country. The neighboring Darien library had a similar event planned that was canceled under the same kind of pressure.
Now, we need to be organized, present, and loud to prove hate has no home in our town.
I’m thankful that U.S Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., and state Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, D-Downers Grove, have spoken out in favor of the library, and I call on other local leaders and community members to do the same. There is currently an open seat on the library board, which is appointed by the mayor.
We must urge Barnett to choose an individual who represents the same welcoming values that the village and library represent. I’m calling on Downers Grove residents to support their library by writing letters to both the library and village boards in favor of the library’s inclusive values and that groups like Awake should not be allowed to dictate public life in our community.
The next library board meeting is Sept. 28. Anyone who supports the library should show up and speak out.
Amanda Recupido is a Downers Grove resident.
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