DOTHAN — Concerned residents gathered on Wednesday to petition the Dothan Houston County Library Board to remove books from the library they considered obscene or pornographic.

In recent months, Alabama residents have requested their local libraries remove or relocate sexually explicit children's books. Residents in Dothan have complained about the several LGBTQ+ promoting children's books and newly discovered books that include sexually explicit images targeting children.

See: 'The queer, fat girl rom-com of my dreams': Dothan libraries offer LGBTQ books for children, teens

One book, "Gender Queer," which has become a matter of national public debate, was at the forefront of the discussion on Wednesday. "Gender Queer: A Memoir" has taken center stage in national politics, surrounding sexually explicit books targeted towards children. Several states have challenged the book's inclusion in public and school libraries—notably, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis claimed responsibility for seeing it removed from Florida school libraries.  

"Gender Queer" received an Alex Award in 2020, an award given by the American Library Association (ALA) to "books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18."

In October, a resident submitted "Gender Queer" for reconsideration from the board. According to Dothan Library Director Christopher Warren, a commission of three library employees reviewed the book and decided to keep it. Warren told 1819 News that the books remain in the adult section where they have always been.

"'Gender Queer: A Memoir' is an autobiographical account, in graphic novel format, of the author's experiences with gender and sexuality, with a focus on the confusion and uncertainty of gender dysphoria in particular," Warren said in his reconsideration response. "The book was recognized with a starred review in School Library Journal, which praised the book as 'a great resource for those who identify as nonbinary or asexual, as well as for those who know someone who identifies that way and wish to better understand' (2019). The book was also praised in the Journal of  the American Medical Association for its explanation of 'gender nonbinariness in highly personal, intimate, patient, and deliberate ways,' which provides 'a valuable opportunity to understand the experiences of [gender nonbinary individuals]'"

He continued, "[T]aken as a whole, the book has significant artistic, creative, and cultural merit. For these reasons, 'Gender Queer: A Memoir' is a valuable part of our collection, and as such, we will retain it as cataloged."

Related: 'Contain messages and images enticing minors to experiment in pagan sexual activities': Dothan Library Board hears concerns over sexually explicit children's books 

One resident provided pictures from "Gender Queer" in an attempt to display the book's sexual content.

WARNING! Pictures are sexually explicit.

Dr. Paul Thompson, a local pastor, was allowed to petition the board to reconsider previous decisions as it relates to book challenges, specifically "Gender Queer." While Thompson is a pastor, he emphasized that his objection to including specific books was not a religious one. Instead, he appealed to "common decency and common sense," saying that sexual content in books for children is harmful and could be used by a "deviant adult" to "groom" children.

"We are neither book burners nor book banners as some would claim," Thompson said. "We are pastors and parents, teachers, farmers, businesspeople, retirees, stay-at-home moms. We're your neighbors. We're people that love this community, and we love the people that we live among in this community."

"We're concerned about certain content in our local library that we consider to be obscene; pornographic even by definition, and harmful to the healthy, normal development of children, emotionally, intellectually, physically. And while we're grateful that this content represents but a fraction of the library's total collection, nonetheless, its inclusion at all troubles us."

In addition to criticizing "Gender Queer," Thompson mentioned other books that he believed to be unacceptable. He also claimed "Gender Queer" had been "relocated" to the adult section from the young adult section, a claim denied by Warren.

Thompson encouraged a complete removal of "Gender Queer" and other books from the public library and a revision of the reconsideration policy. The board has a review policy for challenging books. Once residents submit a book for reconsideration, the decision is final for at least five years.

"A five-year moratorium on receiving or engaging in legitimate concerns of citizens seems arbitrary and even draconian to me. And while I understand the intent is to protect the limited resources of staff, time and budget, the perception from those who have submitted these requests and been denied is that the policy is only intended to silence any opposition."

While he acknowledged that the board could not evaluate the same books in perpetuity, Thompson suggested that either the library board or an independent committee be responsible for handling book challenges instead of library employees whose motives could be called into question.

"It seems inherently counterproductive for library leadership to be tasked with the responsibility with reconsidering their own actions and decisions and be possibly asked to correct themselves," he said.

At the end of the meeting, board member Vanita McLain asked why Thompson's appeals were not addressed by the board during the meeting. Vice Chair Ashli Wilkins responded that the board only addresses issues on the agenda, and since Thompson's concerns were not on the agenda, the board would not publicly address them.

"The board agenda is set by the board," Wilkins said. "We provide opportunities for the public to sign up and speak, which Dr. Thompson did very eloquently this morning, but his speech would not necessitate an item on the agenda."

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