Enid Public Library Board Bans Pride Display, Entering Third Year of Pride Display Battles

Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She’s the editor/author of (DON’T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

While an increase in rainbow iconography should be the harbinger of Pride month, over the last three to four years, it’s been bans on Pride displays in libraries more commonly ushering it in. This week, for the third consecutive year, the Enid Public Library in Oklahoma has stirred a manufactured panic around Pride displays in the library. An outside group which has been permitted an exhibit now for several years has had their request for a 2024 display rejected, opening the door wide for a third year of battling over what constitutes a display, what constitutes an exhibit, and what is deemed “appropriate” in either at the public library serving over 60,000 people county-wide.

Enid Public Library created an LGBTQ+ Pride display in June 2021 that began the ongoing battle over LGBTQ+ books in the library. The display was celebrated and cheered on social media following complaints sent to the library board by a homeschool parent in the early days of the book banning panic. By April 2022, the Enid Public Library board enacted a policy that banned all displays and programs related to “sexual content.” This led not only to the banning of Pride displays in the library, but it led to the cancelation of a popular romance book club and canceling of a book display about sexual assault awareness month.

The policy was changed after fierce backlash–the ending of a romance book club was a bridge too far–and the results were a policy that differentiates library displays from exhibits presented by outside organizations. Displays created by the library itself needed to be of a general nature with nothing political or partisan. Outside groups interested in creating an exhibit in the library would apply to the library director for permission, with an outline of what the exhibit would include. These exhibits come with a three-week time limit. Exhibits could include material of a partisan nature, though in neither displays nor exhibits could materials deemed “harmful to minors” be permitted.

During this series of policy updates, Enid LGBTQ+ Coalition applied to have an exhibit for June 2022 during the initial “no displays” policy.* The group was permitted to create the exhibit. The exhibit was located upstairs, and in addition to having an array of LGBTQ+ books, it included Pride flags and the mayor’s proclamation of Pride Month. (It’s worth noting that at the end of summer 2022, the Enid Public Schools began having their own challenges to LGBTQ+ books, wherein an administrator noted that dozens of books needed to be removed from the school library for being in violation of the state’s House Bill 4012–what begins in the community public library doesn’t stay there and vice versa with the public schools).

By early 2023, several members of the library board were appointed as “library board advisors,” tasked to help the library director determine whether or not materials for the collection were appropriate, where those items could be shelved, and whether or not exhibits could be allowed. Enid LGBTQ+ Coalition once again applied for permission to have an exhibit–two in fact, one for Pride Month and one in October centered on LGBTQ+ history and tied to the local Pride festivities. The application emphasized the non-sexual nature of the exhibits and they were approved by the board.

The Pride month display was approved, but not without further controversy. Vacancies on the library board once again brought exhibits back up for debate that summer, including the second exhibit from Enid LGBTQ+ Coalition for October. The board narrowly voted down an amendment to their policy which would disallow exhibits that could “create division” in the community. The Coalition’s display for later in the year would continue.

And now, in May 2024, the display proposed by Enid LGBTQ+ Coalition was vetoed by the board. This is thanks in part to a new member of the board who did not know where the exhibit would be and who did not know the kinds of materials which would be displayed.

At least, that’s what that board member said. Per the actual application by a member of the group who proposed the exhibit–again, the third one since the constantly changing policies and battles over display and exhibit policies began–it’s pretty clear.

Enid LGBTQ+ Coalition display request.
While this is public record, I’ve elected to blur out the requester’s phone number.

The 2024 exhibit would include the same titles and information approved by the board in 2023. What that includes already exists in the board’s records. Moreover, any good board member would ask some questions if “unsure” what something means.

More information about why the board voted against the display that had been previously approved twice is unavailable–and yet, it’s not hard to speculate. Following the exhibit veto, the board discussed the location of several books in the collection. In one case, a young adult novel was moved from the YA section to adult, while the board elected to keep another YA book right where it belongs. But the meeting concluded with several more books and their location being put on the agenda for the July board meeting.

Given the history of this library board’s eagerness to censor book displays by the library staff and redefine “display” and “exhibit,” it is likely that Enid Public Library will soon be revisiting their display policies once again to eradicate the options for outside groups like Enid LGBTQ+ Coalition from utilizing the space.

This is but the first in what will likely be a very long, very contentious Pride month for libraries across the country. We’ve already seen Target back down to the pressure from right-wing attacks that came last year, and it’s a sign of how the biggest bullies are winning with their agenda of LGBTQ+ erasure.

If you’re in or near Enid, Oklahoma, it’s time to write your board and ask them why they denied the exhibit application of a trusted and previously approved organization. Show up at the July meeting in person if you can and use your time at the mic to speak up about the inconsistency and bigotry disguised as “not knowing” in applying their own policies.

*In 2018 and 2019, before the manufactured panic around LGBTQ+ books, it is worth noting that the public library was a vendor at Enid’s own Pride Event and hosted many of the group’s meetings in their space. Amazing that the panic around pornography and inappropriateness didn’t exist then, isn’t it?

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