Smithtown Library board votes to allow Pride displays back in children's sections
The Smithtown Library board reversed course Thursday, voting to put Pride displays back up in children's sections of the library.
The board on Tuesday voted to take down Pride displays down and to remove books related to LGBTQ+ issues from children's sections. Four out of seven trustees voted in favor of taking the Pride displays down.
On Thursday, one trustee reversed his vote and another abstained, meaning that the Pride displays are coming back.
Thomas Maher, vice president of the Smithtown Library board, was the one person who changed his vote at an emergency meeting.
"I will reverse my decision tonight, and wholeheartedly vote to reinstate the Pride month displays," Maher said.
The order to remove the displays in the first place led to sharp backlash, including condemnation from Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Library Board President Brianna Baker-Stines, who says she is a member of the LGBTQ community, says the trustees should never have voted on the issue to begin with. Instead, she says decisions about which books to display should be made by librarians.
"We need to trust the staff we hired and allow them to handle the day-to-day operations of the library," Baker-Stines says. "The motion we made went against our mission statement and it was a mistake."
Some board trustees still voted against reinstating the Pride displays, saying some of the LGBTQ+ books are not appropriate for young children.
"It is still my concern to shield some of these books from the little kids, from the children's area," says Marie Gergenti, a Smithtown Library board trustee. "Not the adult sections or the teen section..."
Pride displays will remain up through at least July 15. At that point, it will be up to the supervising librarians to take them down or leave them up.
Hochul has also said that she is directing the Division of Human Rights to launch an investigation into reports of anti-LGBTQ+ bias from the board.
Meanwhile, Gov. Kathy Hochul reacted to the ban in a tweet, writing, "Our public spaces should be accepting of our young people - not rejecting them."
Smithtown Library Board president Brianna Baker-Stines issued a statement on the matter:
"I was horrified by the display of ignorance at last night's Board meeting. As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I recognize the importance of access to diverse materials. These can be life-saving resources for our youth. While I am saddened by the results of the Board's vote, this is a reminder of the hatred and bigotry that has been festering in the Town of Smithtown, driven by those with a political agenda that runs counter to the role of the Library. My intention is to abide by all laws concerning Libraries, and I will do everything in my power to fight against this injustice. I urge all members of the community to continue to raise their voices, so we can create a Smithtown that promotes acceptance. I agree with NYLAs statement and hope it can be used to promote change within the Board."
The meeting will be held virtually and start at 6:30 p.m.
Gov. Hochul released a statement, directing the Division of Human Rights to investigate reports of anti-LGBTQ+ bias at Long Island libraries.
Statement from Gov. Kathy Hochul:
"I am horrified by reports that the Smithtown Library Board has decided to remove any LGBTQ+ related books from displays in the children's sections of its libraries and have directed the New York State Division of Human Rights to launch an investigation immediately.
"Public places are prohibited by law from engaging in discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Everyone - and particularly our state's young people - deserves to feel welcome at the library. For many LGBTQ+ kids, libraries are a place of refuge and information where they can be welcomed and affirmed for who they are.
"We will not tolerate a 'Don't Say Gay' philosophy taking root in our state. I look forward to seeing the Division of Human Rights take prompt action to investigate these reports."