Voters in conservative Jamestown township in Western Michigan rejected a millage renewal of its Patmos Library, likely to cause the library to close by next fall.
Jamestown Township, population just under 10,000, is politically conservative even for conservative Ottawa County. The township voted for Donald Trump for president by a margin of 76-21 percent in 2020. About 92 percent of residents are white, and the median income of $81,000 is 37 percent higher than that of the state median household income of $59,000.
The millage failure, by a 25-point margin, would gut the 2023 budget by 84% of its operating budget collected through property taxes. Ten years earlier, the millage passed by a 37-point margin.
What began as a parent raising concerns over the graphic novel “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” located in the adult graphic novel section, grew to complaints at library board meetings over several other books.
The library board moved “Gender Queer” book behind the counter, where children couldn’t happen upon it by accident. The book tells the story of the author’s coming of age as nonbinary, and includes illustrations of sex acts.
Complaints were filed about several other books, including “Spinning,” a graphic novel about a teen girl and her attraction to other girls, and “Kiss Number 8,” a graphic novel with similar themes. Those books remain on the shelves of the young adult (high-school age) graphic novels section.
Library Director Amber McLain resigned last spring over online harassment and accusations of “indoctrinating children.” The interim director resigned later.
A group called Jamestown Conservatives began lobbying against the library, passing out flyers that read, “Pray that we can make changes and make the Patmos Library a safe and neutral place for our children.” Yard signs popped up, one saying, “50 percent increase to GROOM our kids? Vote NO on Library!”
Amanda Ensing, one of the organizers of the Jamestown Conservatives group, emerged from the library Tuesday wearing an “I voted” sticker. “They are trying to groom our children to believe that it’s OK to have these sinful desires,” Ensing said of library officials. “It’s not a political issue, it’s a Biblical issue.”
Ensing said she hoped the millage rejection would be a “wake-up call” that would encourage library officials to remove books from shelves that community members find objectionable.
The library board president didn’t appear ready to compromise Tuesday. He said he didn’t believe the library needed a wake-up call and shouldn’t remove books.
Jamestown resident Salem Sousley, who identifies as nonbinary and lives close by, said when they see the sign “it turns my stomach.”
Having books young adults can access on LGBT themes “is incredibly important,” Sousley said. “When I was growing up in Jenison (in Ottawa County), the language of who I was as a nonbinary person didn’t exist yet. When I read ‘Gender Queer,’ it was the first time I ever saw myself represented in a book.
“So many kids are struggling in silence, especially in areas like this,” Sousley said. “Having access to resources and materials of people who are sharing your experiences is literally life-saving.”