"My Shadow is Purple" was among the children's books featured in a Pride month display at the Appomattox library that prompted county officials to disband the library board. Books from that collection are still available in the library; some are now part of a display for a summer reading program about inclusivity. Photo by Lisa Rowan.

The Appomattox County Board of Supervisors appears poised to reinstate a member of the library board of trustees it removed last month following complaints about a Pride-themed book display.

Supervisor Alfred Jones III made the request at the board of supervisors meeting Monday night, after he said he realized that he had voted to remove library board members due to his own beliefs, and not the law of Virginia.

Supervisor Alfred Jones III (center), flanked by County Administrator Susan Adams and fellow board member Travis Hipps, on Monday asked that Joetricia Humbles be reinstated to the library board of trustees. Photo by Lisa Rowan.

“The threshold for firing the library board [members] for misconduct must be higher than ‘I feel’ or ‘I think.’ It must be ‘I know,’” Jones said during the meeting, admitting that he had voted without due diligence.

Last month, the board of supervisors remade the library’s board of trustees in response to objections raised about a Pride month display in the children’s section of the J. Robert Jamerson Memorial Library in Appomattox.

At that meeting, the board of supervisors voted 3-2 to disband the current library board due to what it described as misconduct for allowing LGBTQ+-themed materials to be displayed to children in the library.

The board then immediately reappointed two of the members who were ousted, and appointed three new members.

The only board member who wasn’t reappointed was Joetricia Humbles, who joined the board in 2022. Humbles also serves on the board of Appomattox for Equality, a nonprofit supporting underrepresented communities in the area. 

Jones on Monday proposed reinstating Humbles to the library board, a suggestion some fellow supervisors questioned because it would require removing a board member who was appointed during the fray last month.

Instead, the county attorney will prepare a resolution that will call for adding additional seats to the library board. If the board of supervisors approves it, that body can then consider reinstating Humbles.

“I feel so strongly that a wrong has occurred,” Jones said. “This can be a teachable moment.” He explained that while he morally objects to the content of the library books in the Pride display, the decision of whether to offer the materials isn’t up to him. He added that there’s a process in place for removing books without having to remove library board members.

Supervisor John Hinkle, who initially had moved to remove library board members last month, said the proposed resolution to add members to the library board is “a good compromise to appease the community.”

But ousted library board member Humbles said she’s still feeling frustrated, especially after Samuel Carter, chairman of the board of supervisors, indicated during Monday’s meeting that he doesn’t think anyone who’s “down on the county” should serve on any board.

“They’re still making it about me. I’m the one that’s being targeted,” Humbles said after the meeting. She said she’s always posted on Facebook about the government, telling people to vote and go to meetings. “Yes, I’m an ally for the LGBTQ community, and that’s not going to change.”

Joetricia Humbles (at left) addresses the board of supervisors Monday night. Photo by Lisa Rowan.

Humbles, who spoke to the board of supervisors during the public comment period of the meeting, said that not only had she been misrepresented during the June meeting, but the community of Appomattox had been as well.

“You’re telling community members who are part of the LGBT community they don’t matter,” Humbles said. “That they don’t exist, they don’t pay taxes, they don’t believe in God, they don’t love people, but they do.”

Of the 10 or so residents who addressed the board Monday night, just under half spoke in support of Humbles or of the book display.

One was Lora Cartrett of Appomattox, who cited Humbles’ history of volunteering with young people in the community and her expertise as a case manager and mental health counselor.

“You voted to remove an overly qualified Black woman,” she said.

Pride book controversy started with complaints

Both this year and last year, residents raised concerns about a Pride month display in the children’s section of the library that included content some of them found to be explicit.

The June 2023 display featured children’s books such as “Red: A Crayon’s Story” by Michael Hall and “If You’re a Drag Queen and You Know It” by drag performer Lil Miss Hot Mess.

Evelyn Ford, a library board of trustees member who had been immediately reinstated after being removed at the meeting last month, asked the board of supervisors on Monday to reinstate Humbles. Ford, who was named chair of the library board last week at its first meeting since being remade, explained the process for the public to question library titles and said she was not aware of any requests for review since she started her term in August 2022.

If a patron submits a complaint — known as a reconsideration request — the library director reviews their concerns and makes a recommendation, according to the Jamerson library policy guide. If the patron is not satisfied with the decision, they can appeal to the board of trustees. The board of trustees can form a committee to review the title in question and make a recommendation to the board. In the meantime, the title stays on the shelf. 

Several of the books that were part of the Pride-themed display. They’re still available for patrons to check out at the library. Photo by Lisa Rowan.

Though similar concerns were raised about the library’s Pride display in 2022, the complaints didn’t reach the board of supervisors.

At last month’s supervisors meeting, some people who spoke recommended that the selections be removed from the sight line of small children. Others said it was immoral to have what they called obscene materials in the library at all.

Karen Angulo of Concord, along with Paul Raymond, pastor of Reformed Bible Church in Appomattox, called for a temporary shutdown of the library so it could be scoured for inappropriate materials. Raymond suggested that members of the library’s board of trustees could be charged with felonies for exposing children to pornography, and he repeated that claim during Monday’s meeting.

Some opponents of the Pride display said that they weren’t calling for book burning or oppressing the First Amendment, but they noted that having books with LGBTQ+ themes in the library went against their Christian faith. 

Residents who support keeping the books available in the library say the outspoken group complaining about the books is trying to push out minority voices.

Kimberly Steger, a mental health counselor in Appomattox, attended the first meeting of the new library board on July 13, where she held a sign from her seat in the audience. On one side, it said “LGBTQ+ kids belong” and on the other side “Queer rights are human rights.” 

That library board meeting did not include a public comment segment.

Young queer people “face isolation, rejection, harassment, bullying and ostracism,” Steger said ahead of Monday’s meeting. “To hear parents and grandparents going to meetings and saying they’re abominations, it’s terrible.” 

Many of the residents who have objected to books with LGBTQ+ themes said that the content grooms children to be exploited by pedophiles, a claim that’s been made by right-wing parent groups Moms for Liberty and MassResistance.

But the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN, says that grooming, or manipulative behaviors abusers use to gain access to a victim, is usually employed by a family member or someone else a victim trusts.  

“Ostracizing the LGBT+ community can make kids more vulnerable to grooming efforts that may come within their own family unit,” Steger said. “If you make kids afraid of big scary drag queens, they’re not paying attention to the youth pastor or uncle” that presents a more likely threat, she said. 

The J. Robert Jamerson Memorial Library in Appomattox. Photo by Lisa Rowan.

The Virginia Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee released a statement in late June that explained, “The idea that library books might be obscene or pornographic is alarming,” but the depiction of sex acts in books does not automatically mean they’re obscene. Rather, the code of Virginia requires they be “taken as a whole” and evaluated as a complete work instead of on the content of a few pages.

The statement goes on to say: “The Freedom to Read is essential to our democracy. It is vital that we are able to make up our own minds about what we choose to read and what we think about it. Without access there is no way to make the choice.”

Debate over access to library books continues across Virginia

The debate over whether children should have access to certain books is top of mind around the state.

The Botetourt County Board of Supervisors recently received a petition from citizens concerned about the content of books in the library. At a late June board meeting, the county attorney advised the board that it has little authority over the matter because libraries in Virginia follow rules set by the commonwealth.

In the Richmond area, where the Pamunkey Regional Library Board of Trustees oversees 10 libraries, that board recently added two appointed members who were endorsed by the Hanover Republican Committee.

One of them had previously spoken out against the library board after the Atlee Branch Library put up a display during Banned Books Week last September. 

Lisa Rowan is education reporter for Cardinal News. She can be reached at lisa@cardinalnews.org or 540-384-1313.