As the St. Marys City Commission continues to push for leaving a regional library system over a book about a transgender kid, one member declared “transgenderism is not a truth.”
Richard Binsfield, the commissioner who made those comments at a Nov. 1 meeting, also said “a man is a man, and a woman is a woman.”
Binsfield said it is his duty to take action since the book remains in the library. “We can’t let this go on in the community if there is something we can do about it,” he said.
The library issue first surfaced at the Aug. 16 city commission meeting when Commissioner Matthew Childs requested adding a “morals clause” to the building lease the city has with Pottawatomie Wabaunsee Regional Library because of the St. Marys branch’s inclusion of a book called “Melissa.” That book, formerly entitled “George,” deals with transgender issues.
This has led to extended discussions about St. Marys starting its own city library.
Commissioners took no formal action on the lease last week but made clear in their discussion that they intend to part ways with the library over the issue, or at least make substantial structural changes.
“It’s clear,” Commissioner Francis Awerkamp said, “that the local library is unwilling to recognize and respect the wishes of the city commission and many parents in the city, so if that’s the case then maybe we should look at other options.”
Awerkamp said he looked at several city funded libraries in Kansas for an example. Another option he considered was a city-appointed library board that will exist within the regional library system. In this way, the city has local oversight of the Pottawatomie-Wabaunsee Library.
“That will be my preference, and it will have the least amount of changes to the system,” Awerkamp said. “Whether the statute allows that with regional libraries and how they are set up, I did not research that today.”
Awerkamp said many local parents have already shown him their support, and he wishes to further explore options.
Judith Cremer, the PWRL director, denied Awerkamp’s assertion that the library is unwilling to work with the city.
“I don’t understand where you got the idea that we weren’t willing to work with you or the implication that we are willing to put any child in danger,” she said. “I know how hard we work at the library, and I know my staff is demoralized by this. We spent our whole lives serving this community and protecting those children.
“We have not said that we are not willing or able or open to working with the city,” she continued. “We have not shut any doors, so I do not understand where you are coming from with that.”
Cremer explained how the library is willing to compromise — restricting the book at parents’ request, but keeping the book at readers’ discretion instead of having no access to it at all.
“We are a tax-funded facility, and some taxpayers don’t agree with all of the literature,” Cremer said. “We have to have something for everybody, that’s just what a public library is but we are very happy to work with parents. If they say a child should not have access to something, we can manage that.”
But even with library controls, the commissioners didn’t want the book on the shelves, with several weighing in on the topic of transgender people.
Binsfield expressed his concern.
“This idea of transgenderism is something we don’t agree with,” he said. “I don’t agree with it, I don’t think it’s the truth. I don’t think it’s something that is good to present to anybody in a way in which it appears to be true, and I think that I have the backing of the majority of the citizens in this community that think the same way.”
“A man is a man, and a woman is a woman,” he continued. “I’m sorry, that does not change no matter what somebody puts into somebody else’s mind or what someone wants to think, it’s the truth and the facts can’t be changed. Transgenderism is not a truth, and catering to it is wrong.”
“Our concern is that the content in these books is not good, is not true,” Binsfield went on. “It’s a lie, and these are concerns we have. We can control what happens in this community, and if we can control it, we are also responsible for it.”
Childs also weighed in, asking Cremer if she would be in favor of “having books in the library with incorrect questions to math problems? Would we want that book in the library?”
“No,” she responded.
“Why not?” Childs asked.
“Systemically we are a collection,” she said. “If there is information that is outdated, we remove it. This particular book, it was on the William Allen White Master list, which is statewide and nationwide recognized.”
Gerard Kleinsmith, a former city commissioner who is running again, also spoke up.
“One week from today, my name will be on the ballot and hopefully I’m going to win,” he said. “And I may be joining some of these gentlemen (commissioners). I think we’ve beat this horse long enough. They don’t want to get rid of the book, we as a city should have nothing to do with that library. Don’t renew the lease. It’s evil, it’s pure evil, it’s wrong. Our children, no children, no adults, nobody should be subject to that. It is fantasy. People, do not renew the lease if they will not get rid of the book.”
A parent in the audience questioned Cremer on how she would restrict the book.
“We have a circulation system,” Cremer said. “We put the note into their account and whenever they come to check something out, it pops up and says this is not allowed.”
Another audience member pointed out, “That’s not going to stop them going into the library and reading the book, or somebody else checking it out and giving it to them.”
“I can’t control the rules,” Cremer responded. “Honestly, the circulation on the book we’re talking about is very low. And only a few people have checked it out. But my opinion is they have the right to do that. The other people, obviously, are passing it by, and that’s fine, too.”
Another audience member weighed in.
“The thing is, you can control what goes on in this little community,” she said. “But what about your kids or grandkids or whatever? They go out in the world. And the first time they’re hearing about all this stuff is going to be a shock. They can get in trouble, because there’s a lot of stuff that goes on because of people not understanding this gender stuff. And what will you do then?”
Some members of the audience asked if this may set a precedent of more literature being banned in the future. Mayor Philip Borgerding mentioned how it is becoming commonplace all over the country to ban certain books.
“There are books all over this country that in various cities, both liberal and conservative minded, have been banned, including ‘Huckleberry Finn,’” Borgerding said. “It’s not uncommon. We’re talking about fourth graders, who haven’t even reached puberty yet, making a decision on whether they want to be boys or girls. That’s not appropriate. It’s not a difference of opinion, it’s a moral issue, and that’s the concern the city council has. It’s not appropriate for young children to read books like this.”
According to Borgerding, it is not the intent or plan of the city to read every book and censor everything, but as for LGBT literature, it is an easy no from the commission.
The discussion wound down with comments from Pottawatomie County Commissioner Pat Weixelman. He felt things could be worked out, perhaps with a committee that would look at books to see what was acceptable and what was not.
“I think in the long run, there’s ways to skin this cat without hurting it,” he said, “and I think everybody could be a part of it. I think you’re trying to build a fence between each entity and there’s no compromise. Compromise has gone out the window many, many years ago. That’s what’s wrong with this country, no compromise. I’m right, you’re wrong.
“One thing I would like to say,” he continued, “is that if you’re concerned about a book that has illicit language, the Holy Bible talks about all kinds of illicit sins that took place. There’s pictures of the Sistine Chapel, women’s breasts were shown. Now, what are you going to do to tell your kids whenever that comes your way? How are you going to explain that?”
Borgerding thanked Wexielman for his comments, adding “with that, we’ll carry this one forward. We’ll take a look at some of those options.”
The PWRL has eight locations in Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties — Alma, Alta Vista, Eskridge, Harveyville, Olsburg, Onaga, St. Marys and Westmoreland. The St. Marys branch serves as the headquarters, and the lease on that building is up the end of this year. It levies a tax on the residents of those counties, excluding the Wamego city government.