By RJ Morgan, County 17
The names of the two minors in this story have been edited to protect their privacy)
Two local Boy Scout members called out the Campbell County Commissioners earlier this week for their reported fixation on LGBTQ+ material in the public library and reported attempts to meddle in the established challenge process.
Sue and Gabby, both members of Boy Scout Troop BSA Scouting Troop 109 in Wright, expressed their frustration on Oct. 4 during the Campbell County Director’s meeting over criticism the library and its staff have received lately regarding books that some residents feel are inappropriate for children and teenagers to view.
The two of them said that they have watched the issue and the ensuing chaos in local government meetings unfold through the eyes of Gillette Public Access TV after school have experienced a growing concern that the commissioners are not allowing the library to do its job properly.
At every meeting since July, Gabby and Sue said, the commissioners have dedicated much of their time to addressing concerns over access to LGBTQ+ books at the library at the request of a small group of citizens, many of whom have openly admitted to acting on religious grounds, without stopping to assess whether their actions represent every citizen in Campbell County.
Hiding LGBTQ+ material at a public library is censorship, they said, and it should be made available to readers of all ages.
“Not everyone in Campbell County is a heterosexual, straight Christian and they should not feel threatened by going to public places that their taxes help support,” Sue said. “If you actually want to protect the children, how about send out messages of kindness. You do not have to agree with someone else’s life choices to be kind.”
Additionally, they continued, not every person who is going to have an LGBTQ+-related question is going to be an adult, and it would be nice for a teenager to learn facts about the community from an informative book at the library as opposed to approaching parents and having to make do with opinions.
They brought up community standards, which has been mentioned several times by members of the commission in previous weeks regarding library material, asking the commissioners to explain what process they use to determine what those would be.
“What methods were used to develop those community standards?” Gabby asked. “Are you polling just library patrons, or the whole 46,000 resident in Campbell County, or just the 20 people who scream the loudest on what they feel is age appropriate?”
The pair also expressed frustration that the commissioners seemed fixated on speeding up the review process for books challenged by the community, asking Commissioner Del Shelstad directly why he seems so frustrated and what he expects the library to do in a short amount of time.
There is a 30-day working limit for each step, for every challenged book, which could add up to 120 days for a single challenge, Shelstad said.
“Because of the continuous issue that is in our community, I feel that we could speed that up. That was my opinion, and my opinion only. And I still feel like that today,” he said.
There is a logjam of more than three dozen books that are waiting to get through the review process, many of which could be read in an hour, and not four months, Shelstad continued.
“I guess my point was this: I understand the process at the library,” Shelstad replied. “The process that was explained to me is a 30-day process (per book), originally- don’t shake your head, I’m not trying to argue with you, I’m answering a question.”
Sue, who suffers from a tic disorder that causes her to shake her head involuntarily, and Gabby pled with the commission to allow the library to do its job so they could get on with addressing more important issues.
Gabby, left, and Sue address their library concerns to the county commissioners. (RJ Morgan/County 17)
“Like the fact that the Wright Branch Library still has leaks in its basement despite the numerous and poorly executed attempts to repair the leak,” Sue said. “Or the fact that there is a baseball field in Wright owned by Parks and Rec that has been unusable for years because they are not taking care of it.”
Shelstad said that the fact that the issue has gotten to the point that the commission had to sit and be chastised by children is sad and that the two Boy Scouts had come before them just to be argumentative.
“I think it’s incredibly sad that we sit here today and be chastised by two children based on the agenda of things that are happening in the community, and I am part of that,” Shelstad said. “I think it’s sad the presentation that you girls are making is something to sit here and chastise us and ask us questions about and obviously be argumentative about. That’s the end of my statement.” (Video 32:35)
Sue objected to Shelstad’s characterization of their presentation as “sad.”
“First off, we are not kids or children,” she said. “We are teenagers with developed brains- we can think. Second, it is not sad that you are being chastised by children. We are teens that have questions. So that is incredibly offensive, especially in this day and time that you would think so lowly of us as children. I would understand if you were upset if a couple of 6-year-old’s walked in.”
Hiding LGBTQ + material at a public library is censorship, Gabby and Sue continued, and its material that should be available to readers of all ages.
Commissioner Rusty Bell thanked the Sue and Gabby for their presentation and their concern.
Sue and Gabby will give the same presentation at the next Library Board meeting.