Rainbow Rant: Libraries are queer — and they need our protection

Joy Ellison
Following an outcry from some conservative groups and patrons, the Delaware County District Library canceled a June 5 program about the art, craft and history of dressing in drag. It was to be taught by Columbus drag queen Selena T. West, pictured. [Dean Narciso/Dispatch]

When I was in high school, I skipped class whenever I had a geometry test. I would slip out the side door, dash across the street and enter a place where I felt safe: the public library.

There may be no public institution queerer than the library.

I spent every day after school at the library conducting earnest research on my own sexuality and gender. Twenty-plus years ago, I couldn’t find a list of LGBT books for teens, so I worked my way through the library catalog like a detective.

The first queer book I read was Rubyfruit Jungle, a lesbian classic by Rita Mae Brown. It terrified me, convincing me that to be queer I would have to move to New York City, stay up all night and get good at running. It also fascinated me. Eventually, I found my way to titles better suited to a trepidatious teen. My favorites were Alison Bechdel’s comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For and Nancy Garden’s young adult novel Annie on My Mind.

Books answered the questions my parents didn’t know that I had. Librarians kept my secrets. Even though some of the librarians scanning my books knew my mother, who was of their coterie, I knew they would never tell her what I was reading.

Libraries are one of the only places where you can search for the answers to your most personal questions in public. Every inquiry is welcome. Best of all, libraries are free. Not just intellectually, but in real dollars and cents. They are one of the only indoor spaces you can go without spending money, which makes them a haven for queer and trans young people.

When I came out to my parents and then ran away from home, libraries kept me safe. The life-saving work that libraries do is often literal.

Anyone trying to keep queer and trans young people out of libraries is fighting a losing battle. Nonetheless, across the country right wing hate groups are trying to prevent LGBT-friendly library programming like Drag Queen Story Hour. Some of these activists openly espouse white supremacy.

When Columbus drag queen Selena T. West tried to hold an event in Delaware, Ohio, Ohio State House Speaker Larry Householder condemned it in a letter to the Ohio Library Council. Unsurprisingly, Householder came out looking misinformed and petty. It’s hard to read a queen who’s just reading picture books and handing out make-up tips.

Nonetheless, whenever hateful people try to prevent LGTQ-friendly library programming, we must defeat them soundly. Queer and trans children and teenagers need us to defend their access to one of the only places that is safe for everyone.

Libraries are queer. Be mad about it, but be quiet. We’re reading.