Forty-eight hours after approving a controversial resolution, the Smithtown Library Board of Trustees voted 4-2 Thursday evening to reinstate LGBTQ+ Pride displays in its children’s rooms.
The move rescinds the board’s resolution at its Tuesday meeting, passed in a 4-2 vote, to remove all LGBTQ+ Pride displays from the children’s departments across all four of the library district’s buildings. The board’s decision to reinstitute the children’s room displays will remain in effect until July 15, after which time, their presence will be decided upon by the librarians of each building.
Board of Trustees Vice President Thomas Maher, who voted to remove the chidlren’s room displays Tuesday, also voted to repeal the decision Thursday.
“I have always and will always support LGBTQ rights, even though it may not seem that way at the moment,” he said during Thursday’s meeting. “Love, respect and acceptance are values that I teach in my home, and my immediate family is part of the LGBTQ community. I believe that we are all here to love, to learn and to create, and that there are no exceptions.”
Board members said the initial resolution addressed at Tuesday’s meeting was in direct response to complaints from some parents regarding the age appropriate nature of the displays — and some titles.
“The concern was for the small children,” trustee Marie Gergenti said during the meeting. “Developmentally, many parents felt that this was not material suitable for the small ages that were visiting the children’s room. I believe I tried to convey that at the meeting.
“This has nothing to do with anybody’s personal feeling toward Pride,” she continued. “I think we all have family members and friends in that community, and in no way was this an attack on them.”
Gergenti, along with trustee Theresa C. Grisafi, were the two “nay” votes Thursday evening, standing by their Tuesday decision to remove the Pride displays from the children’s rooms.
Trustee Marilyn Lo Presti abstained from voting, and said she is “seeking guidance from members of the LGTBQ community.”
“I want a little more time to cast my vote,” she said. “I want to be well informed, given the sensitive nature of the issue.”
Although the emergency special meeting, held over Zoom, was maxed out with 1,000 participants, including all seven board members, there was no public comment portion.
48 hours of uproar
In her remarks Thursday evening, board President Brianna Baker-Stines said the board overstepped its jurisdiction into a matter that would have been better handled by librarians.
“The motion that we made went against our mission statement and it was a mistake. And I recognize why it was condemned by the New York Library Association, the New York state governor, and even former staff member Jodi Picoult… The fact that this motion was even proposed illustrates the conflicts we have in this town between board members, staff patrons and all community members.”
The uproar began following the board’s scheduled meeting Tuesday evening, when library director Robert Lusak issued a memo to library building heads regarding the board’s resolution.
“At tonight’s meeting, the Board of Trustees passed the following resolution: motion to remove all Pride displays, in addition to removing all books of the same subject on display from all children’s sections in all Smithtown Library buildings,” the memo read. “Accordingly please remove all Pride displays from all of our Children’s Rooms. Please share with the appropriate staff.”
The memo circulated on social media and stirred outcry from the LGBTQ+ community, allies and prominent activists, including David Kilmnick, president of Long Island’s LGBT Network.
Gov. Kathy Hochul weighed in on the issue with a tweet Wednesday evening.
“For many LGBTQ+ kids, libraries are one of the few spaces where they can be welcomed and affirmed for who they are,” Hochul’s tweet reads. “Our public spaces should be accepting our young people — not rejecting them. To LGBTQ+ New Yorkers: We stand with you, we support you, & you are welcome here.”
Earlier today, Hochul announced that she directed the New York State Division of Human Rights to launch an investigation into the measure, according to a statement released from her office.
Wednesday evening, in response to the outcry, the board issued a message via social media discussing the resolution.
“Please understand that all books on this subject are still part of the Library’s Children’s collection and can be checked out by anyone wishing to do so. These titles have not been removed from the collection. The Library continues to display Pride month displays in our Teen and Adult areas.”
Top: Gay pride flags fly over the harbor in Provincetown, Mass., in 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)