Editor's Note: Explicit language

FAIRHOPE — Citizens from Fairhope and beyond attended the city council meeting Monday evening to read books they say are too inappropriate to be in the children's and teen's sections at the Fairhope Public Library. They read excerpts, causing gasps from the crowd. However, some were also booed by those who wanted all the books to stay in their current location. Those who spoke in support of the library included a child sex therapist and a local educator.

Rebecca Watson, who started the Moms for Liberty chapter in Baldwin County, said her group is not asking for books to be banned. However, she said she doesn't believe it is appropriate for children to be exposed to "graphics, sexual, violence, abuse and LGBTQ ideologies." She asked for books with that content to be moved to a different section in the library.

"These children are not old enough to get a job, drive a car, see an R-rated movie, or vote but can read books in silence left to their own imagination without a parent's consent," said Watson. "In my opinion, it is common sense to relocate these books. Planting ideas, targeting children blatantly with adult concepts when they cannot process or grasp any of these without coaxing.

Watson said she has been unable to rest since reading some of the books.

"After reading several of these books, day after day, I suffered nightmares," she said. "They were varied from children cutting off perfectly healthy body parts, children being sexually assaulted, suffering from drug overdoses and violence."

Another Moms for Liberty member, Kim Bear, a retired school teacher, brought a book and asked to read excerpts.

"It has sexual content, I believe is inappropriate," she told the council. "There is masturbation, there is intercourse, and there is how to do oral sex. I think that is inappropriate for young teens to have access to."

However, Council President Cory Martin stopped her before she could read any of it.

"Wait a minute, hold up," Martin said. "I don't need to learn how to do oral sex. Are you about to read that? I don't think anybody needs to learn how to do that."

The next speaker, Wendy Pickering, said the fact that the books cannot be read in a city council meeting proves their point.

"We can't say that here but y'all have no problem with letting our babies read it," said Pickering. "You have no problem with our children being taught at 8, 9, 10 years old how to perform oral sex, how to have boy-on-boy sex, girl-on-girl sex, boy-on-girl sex, how to masturbate, and with vibrators. It is absolutely ridiculous."

Pickering said the council funds the library and accused the council of funding "the destruction of innocence" in children. Pickering, who is from Orange Beach, said her mayor, Mayor Tony Kennon, was able to remove inappropriate books from the juvenile sections, and Fairhope should be able to do the same.

Pickering then asked if it was OK to read from the books and specifically asked if it was to say three explicit words.

"So, I'm asking you tonight, will you let us read?" she said. "It's just a yes or no. Yes or no? Can we read what y'all are using the taxpayer money to fund the destruction of our children's minds?"

"Can we read it?" Pickering continued. "I guess we can't. So, can we read it? Can we say fuck, dick, pussy? I just need to know."

After using explicit language, she announced her grandson would read next. As the child approached the podium, Martin and Pickering began a heated exchange.

"If you're saying what you believe in is true, and we have a baby in here, then I don't think that's productive," Martin said.

"No, the taxpayers are going to see what y'all let go on," Pickering replied.

"Hold on, I'm talking," Martin said. Ma'am, I'm talking. Sit down, or I'm going to ask you to leave. You're out of order. Sit down, please. All right, so if we know we have kids in here, then what point is it to do those things, something that you're against in front of the presence of a baby?

"So everybody can see what y 'all do," Pickering said from the audience.

"No, no, no, no, no," Martin continued. "If you've got any rationale, what I just said, there should be no more comments? Come on, baby, go ahead."

The child read the explicit content, using letters for curse words. He read until Martin stopped him.

Child Alabama News
10-year-old boy stops reading excerpts from a book after Council Member Cory Martin asked him to stop. Photo: Erica Thomas.

Doug Greengard said graphic details should not be allowed in books that are easily accessible to kids.

"I think that any person with one-half grain of salt of any kind of moral fiber would say to themselves, 'This does not belong accessible for children who are as young as seven years old," Greengard said. "And yet, we have a city council elected by us as taxpayers who will not utter a single word nor take a stance against immorality. How can you sit there and allow this garbage?"

Greengard said the council's silence shows they approve of the books being challenged. He used silence at a wedding as an example.

"When a person doesn't say they object to what's going on, they approve it," said Greengard. "And you approve of what's going on. I am convinced of it, you know why? Because facts and the truth speaks and right now, by not speaking, you're telling a lot of truth."

The claim sparked a comment from Council Member Jay Robinson, who said he has previously said and still feels it is inappropriate for children to be given sexually explicit material.

Jay Robinson Alabama News
Fairhope City Council Member Jay Robinson. Photo: Erica Thomas.

"It made me sick to my stomach to listen to that poor child being used to read those terrible words for someone his age," Robinson said. "And it's my right and it's my job as a parent to protect them from the material that I consider inappropriate for them. It is not the government's job to do that for you."

Applause erupted, but Robinson added that he believed the material should be in areas where young children could not get their hands on it.

Many in the room felt uncomfortable when Melissa Gates of Mobile read an excerpt from a book she said could be found in the teen section.

"If you're embarrassed, don't worry about it," the book read. "What if I don't come at all? Don't worry about it. Sex can hurt but by no means does your first time have to be painful. If you're relaxed and aroused, your vagina will produce its own lubrication."

After the reading, Council President Martin asked if a signature was required for these books to be checked out by children. The Fairhope Library does not require a parent's signature to check out books.

Local business owner Nicole Kramer issued a warning to the council.

"I outran this in San Diego, California," said Kramer. "I purposely picked Fairhope, Alabama to raise my children in. I relocated, sold everything and moved here specifically for what we were dealing with out there. You guys have no clue where this leads. I don't want to ban a book. I'm not. Everybody has a right to read."

Kramer then read a book that described a rape. She said the book was listed as a fifth-grade reading level.

Administrator and one of the pastors at First Baptist Church in Fairhope, Rev. Brent Shaw, took to the podium and said libraries should be a safe place for children.

"I am highly disappointed that our library would allow such sexually explicit books to be present in children and teen sections and promoting extensive sexual behavior and also promoting the exploration of alternative lifestyles to be in the children and teen sections of our library," said Shaw. "I'm also disappointed that you guys have not yet acted on something which you can act upon. I know you can."

Shaw said the fact that people who would never use the language they had to read at the council meeting to prove a point should make everyone uncomfortable. He asked the council to protect minors.

After hearing some of the material read, several citizens addressed the council about why they supported the books being questioned. Those supporting included a teacher and a social worker.

Alicia Wall, a first-grade teacher in Baldwin County, said books should be available to everyone. Holding up her phone, she explained that phones are more dangerous than books in the library.

"Every child I know from third grade up owns this," Wall said. "If you're so blankety-blank worried about pornography, about anything, take this away."

Licensed clinical social worker Sarah Bogdanovich spoke at the meeting to explain she is a therapist and treats problematic sexual behavior in minors. She believes those speaking against the books have "a real lack of expertise."

"I can tell you after having been a therapist for quite a while and raising teens and doing therapy of various sorts, at no time has anyone that I've ever worked with said that they got the ideas for this, came up with an idea for this from anything that the read or saw even on the screen," she said.

Bogdanovich suggested parents have open communication with children about sexuality and acknowledge their sexuality.

"Parents think their children are about three to four years behind where they actually are sexually," she continued. "They're curious, they are curious.

Bogdanovich said the group of those wanting the books placed in a different section of the library "continually waste" the council's time.

Elizabeth Williams, a library supporter, told the council she has a degree as a librarian and compared her education to that of nurse practitioners and lawyers.

"I saw this not to brag but to emphasize the time and devotion it takes to become a librarian," she said. "It's a profession with specialized expertise and minimum education requirements in line with nurse practitioners, engineers, counselors, lawyers, which I know some of y 'all are, and other professionals."

Williams handed out yellow stickers for library supporters to wear during the meeting, and she denied any porn was in the children's section of the library.

"There isn't porn in the children's section," she said. "I repeat there is no porn in the children's section. There may be some sex ed content. In the juvenile section, there may be some LGBTQ-affirming content for families and parents who want that content to help their children make sense of the world they live in, not hide from it. There are a couple of books in the teen section with mature content, as we've seen, but the teen section is for age 13 and up."

Mayor Sherry Sullivan declined to comment.

Several others spoke on both sides of the issue. The full council meeting was live-streamed and can be viewed on social media and below.

The council tabled a planned executive session due to Monday night's lengthy meeting.

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email erica.thomas@1819news.com.

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