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West Michigan library defunded amid LGBTQ+ book battle

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Courtesy photo | WGVU
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Library millage opposition sign

Patmos Library has been the center of debate in Jamestown Charter Township for months. For some, tension came to a head on Tuesday, as citizens voted against the renewal of a millage that supplied the library 84% of its $245,000 annual budget. The millage failed with 1,905 no votes to 1,142 yes votes.

The debate began when the book Gender Queer: A Memoir was discovered on the shelf in November.

It gained momentum earlier this year when disapproving residents began attending library board meetings, voicing their frustration of the book, and others with LGBTQ+ themes, in the public library.

"I just want to remind you the pledge of allegiance states — and that has been part of our government for a long time — and it states that under this nation, we're under God," one constituent said during a library board meeting this year.

"I asked myself the question, why would someone go to such lengths to avoid a collaborative and deliberative process? The logical response to me is that the director must have an agenda," another said.

Yard signs began popping up accusing the library of "grooming" kids.

It was during this time when Matthew Lawrence stepped into the role of library interim director. Today, he's no longer employed by Patmos. He told WGVU his staff had battled pressure both inside and outside of board meetings.

"It's their right to complain about the material, I have no objection to that. When I say 'bad,' is that I mean people coming in and asking people's religion at board meetings, asking sexuality throughout the day... Someone came in asking where the pedophile librarian is, which made everyone feel on edge," Lawrence explained.

According to Lawrence, Gender Queer is still available to readers, but it was placed behind the library counter where it must now be requested. Lawrence said the estimated five to six other books in question remain on the shelves.

Jamestown Charter Township Supervisor, Laurie Vanhaitsma, declined to comment on the situation. WGVU also reached out to administrators of Jamestown Conservatives, a Facebook group which was created in response to the book battle. It declined to comment, but the group's statement online reads, "We stand to keep our children safe and protect their purity, as well as to keep the nuclear family intact as God designed."

While employed with the library, Lawrence also declined to comment. Now he speaks freely in favor of diversity, saying books with LGBTQ+ characters and themes offer access to representation.

"The point of the public library is to make sure that all people of within the public are being represented within it," Lawrence explained.

Library leaders and some community members have expressed concern of Patmos Library's fate with funding set to expire in 2023.