GILLETTE — The latest chapter in the Campbell County Public Library controversy may have been the most heated one yet.
The Campbell County Public Library board had its monthly meeting Monday, and it heard words of support, as well as calls for the resignation of library director Terri Lesley and four library board members.
More than 20 people spoke to the board, and dozens more sat in the audience in a packed Wyoming Room for the Campbell County Public Library Board’s monthly meeting, which usually attracts zero members of the public.
The public comment period, which lasted more than an hour and a half, was filled with passion, shouting, interruptions, snide remarks and applause from both sides. Each commenter was given three minutes to speak, but many of them went over the limit. A couple of times, deputies had to step in to settle things down.
“Mothers and fathers who care about their children do not constitute any kind of a hate group,” said Ed Sisti, pastor of Open Door Church. “The truth is, it’s hateful to call loving parents haters for protecting their children from sexual deviants and perversion.”
For years, national library associations have been “purposely polluting our libraries” with books that are harmful to children’s minds, he said.
“It seems clear that many of them are purposefully corrupting the youth, essentially grooming them to accept these sexual practices, and parents are rarely aware of it,” he said. “This problem has been slowly happening on your watch, which makes most of you responsible for the indoctrination.”
Sisti, as well as several others, called for the immediate resignations of Lesley, and library board members Charlie Anderson, Nancy Stovall, Miranda Finn and Dr. Hollie Stewart.
On July 7, some residents criticized the Campbell County Public Library about a Facebook post promoting its LGBTQ teen collection for Rainbow Book Month.
Six days later, Mikayla Oz, a magician who had been scheduled to perform at the library, canceled due to safety concerns after it was learned that she was a transgender woman.
Kevin Bennett brought a sign that read “Fire The Director.” He said it’s not something he’d like to do, but that it’s necessary because she is responsible for child indoctrination and sexual materials being put in front of children.
Bennett and Ben Decker both read excerpts from “This Book Is Gay,” a nonfiction book on the teen LGBTQ experience in the library’s young adult section. Bennett read from a section titled “Girl on Girl Sex,” and Decker read from “Boy on Boy Sex.”
“You smile and smirk and laugh at this, but you should be embarrassed and ashamed,” Decker said.
“This material is causing an uproar in this room. It's causing an uproar because it’s pornographic,” Bennett said.
Anderson asked Bennett to respect the three-minute limit because there were many other people waiting to speak.
“Mr. Anderson, I am exercising my free speech and I am not intimidated by you because what you are doing is child indoctrination,” Bennett said. “It’s child endangerment, and guess what? It’s pedophilia.”
The comment was met with some laughs from the audience.
“Why would anybody laugh at children being indoctrinated in this way?” Bennett asked.
“I’m laughing at you,” a man in the audience said.
“You’re laughing at me?” Bennett asked.
“Yes,” the man replied. “I’m laughing at you because you’re making an ass of yourself.”
Bennett’s younger brother, Colton Bennett, said that while he doesn’t believe the books should be removed from the library, “appropriate warnings and cautions should be taken” so that parents and children know what they’re getting into.
Sisti’s wife Susan brought several teen books from the library that she found offensive. She said she conducted an inventory of the teen room and part of the children’s section, and “what I found was 60 percent witchcraft, darkness, mom’s dead, this one’s overdosing, I couldn’t believe it.”
Carol Yake said the library has turned into an indoctrination center, and that sex education is up to parents, not the library or the school district.
Susan Bennett said the library exercised “poor judgment” by dedicating a whole month to the LGBTQ community.
“They could’ve devoted it to the bees or agriculture or summer job training, robotics, so many other things,” she said.
She suggested that in the future, the library should get input from the public on events or months that they’re promoting.
Dean Vomhof said everyone in the room Monday loves and supports the library.
“We’re all trying to work toward that goal, we just have different views on how we get there,” he said.
He said it’s not fair that if the library board chooses not to put a certain book in the library, it’s “a judgment call,” but when a resident wants to do the same thing, it’s viewed as censorship or book banning.
“About 2% of people in the U.S. are gay, yet the children and teen sections are full of gay and satanic material. I wondered why. But then, the two do really go hand in hand,” Vomhof said.
Sisti said members of the LGBTQ community can do what they want “in the privacy of their bedroom, but we don’t want it in the libraries or the schools.”
She added that it goes against the beliefs of a majority of local residents.
“There’s probably 15,000 voters (in Campbell County) that attend church. Every major world religion is against homosexuality because of what our God wrote in his Bible. I didn’t write the rules,” Sisti said. “You have stuff in here that we do not believe in. And we don’t want it pushed on our children.”
Sue Knesel, a former librarian who worked for the library for 33 years and helped develop the teen room, defended the library and the young adult section in particular.
“The whole reason that there’s so many books out now about alternative lifestyles ... is that our society has realized that we can’t keep acting like homosexuality does not exist,” she said. “The library is here for everyone in our community, not a select few.”
“They are providing neutral, factual information for youth that they need to know to be successful in our society and accepted,” Knesel said.
Mary Borthwick, a high school teacher, said all of the controversy could have been avoided if the correct procedure was followed. The library has a process through which books can be challenged.
“For all the people who are saying, ‘These books shouldn’t be here,’ go through the proper channels to try to get them removed,” she said.
Borthwick said the people protesting the library are “small fraction of the community that thinks they're representing the rest of the community.”
“If you think that witchcraft and tarot cards should be banned, I would suggest that you are out of touch with the interests of today’s youth,” Christy Gerrits said. “Shall we also ban 'Wizard of Oz'? Should we ban 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'?”
Some people claimed that parents were not allowed in the teen room. Knesel said parents are welcome in the teen room, but they can’t use the computers and they can’t stay and watch the other children.
Leigh Jacobs said public meetings are “not a platform for hate speech,” and that the people who have a problem with the library can say so “without hating on people and totally disregarding an entire section of our community.
“They live in your community and they contribute to your community and you are talking about them like trash and not looking at them as humans, in my opinion,” she said.
Jacobs said that when straight people are being persecuted for being in straight relationships, then “maybe there is a need for a straight pride display. Right now, there’s not.”
She pointed out that the library has a romance section with books that are almost exclusively about heterosexual relationships.
“Is anyone protesting that section of the library? I haven’t heard if they are or not,” she said.
Tracy Mathews thanked the library for having information and being available to those who are questioning their sexuality.
“As is evident in this room today, not everybody can tell their parents that they’re questioning that,” she said.