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Smithtown Library Board restores Pride exhibits in children’s reading rooms

Written by Javed Iqbal

Faced with investigations by New York State human rights officials and withering public criticism from librarians, LGBTQ advocates and others, Smithton’s library board on Thursday restored Pride Month exhibits in its children’s reading rooms.

The 4-2 vote overturned a decision by the board at Tuesday’s meeting to remove the exhibits, which included picture books like “Pink is for Boys” and “Pride Puppy” and a story about the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Exhibitions in areas for adults and teens of the library were not removed, and the books from the children’s exhibit remain in the library’s collection, library director Robert Lusak told Newsday.

Union representatives also adopted a statement, read by President Brianna Baker-Stines, saying the board “recognizes that our previous decision was made without the time, care and due diligence that a decision of this type deserves and that it was wrong decision. ”

Trustee Marie Gergenti, who made the first proposal to remove the exhibits in the children’s room, told Newsday earlier this week that she responded to complaints from community members, but ended a telephone interview without elaborating on the complaints.

Gergenti and administrator Theresa Grisafi opposed the measure to restore the exhibits at Thursday’s meeting, which was conducted over Zoom and had 1,000 participants. Trustees Marilyn Lo Presti and Thomas Maher had voted to remove the screens earlier in the week, but on Thursday Lo Presti said she abstained from seeking “guidance from members of the LGBT community.”

Maher reversed his initial vote for removal, explaining that he had made his first vote because there had not yet been an “appropriate policy” in place.

“I always have and will always support LGBTQ rights, even though it may not look like that at the moment,” he said.

After Thursday’s vote, David Kilmnick, president of the LGBT network on Long Island, said in an interview that members of his organization were “ecstatic” but determined to promote library board candidates to challenge Gergenti and other board members who supported the removal of the exhibits. .

“They woke us up and we want to make sure this does not happen again,” Kilmnick said.

Earlier Thursday, Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement that she had instructed the New York State Division of Human Rights to investigate the removal.

“Public places are prohibited by law from engaging in discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Hochul said. “Everyone – and especially the young people of our state – deserves to feel welcome in the library. For many LGBTQ + children, libraries are a haven and information where they can be welcomed and confirmed as they are. We will not tolerate a ‘Don’ The ‘t Say Gay’ philosophy is taking root in our state. ”

A spokesman for Hochul said in an email that “an entity can be fined and ordered to discontinue discriminatory policies if the DHR, after an investigation and public hearing, finds that they have violated the law.”

Some residents of Smithtown, a strongly conservative city, said Thursday they had supported removal.

“Let the kids be kids without confusing them,” said Robert D’Addario of Commack, who is retired from the aerospace industry. The Pride exhibition “forces a discussion of homosexuality with an age group where it is not at all appropriate to talk about sex,” he said, reflecting on what he described as a nationwide “agenda… There are flags everywhere, parades.” “It’s being forced on us at this point.”

Jerry Prinz, a barber, said Thursday at his store in a mall on Route 111 that issues of gender and sexuality should be “up to parents to talk to their children about.” Books like those included in the library’s Pride exhibits “end up confusing the kids completely,” he said, though he said he had not actually seen the exhibits.

But supporters of the view from Smithown and beyond said the Pride screens should never have been removed. They included the novelist and Nesconset native Jodie Picoult, who tweeted that she was “disgusted” by the board members who voted for the removal of the screens.

Jennifer Fowler, president of the Public Library Directors Association of Suffolk County, said her group “believes this action discriminates against library patrons and employees who are part of the LGBTQIA communities.” The New York Library Association and the Suffolk County Library Association, which represent library staff, issued their own statements opposing the removals.

In remarks at Thursday night’s meeting, Gergenti said the reaction in recent days was excessive and wrong. “The doxxing, the depravity that I experienced, I can not even tell you,” said Gergenti, a well-known conservative voice at Smithtown school board meetings, who was elected library manager last fall.

Gergenti never spoke in favor of removing any books from the library, she said, and was only concerned with child welfare. “All children must be accepted,” she said, “not just one particular, particular group.”

Grisafi also lamented in his own remarks at the meeting that people had been “called hateful and ignorant and bigots”. Removing books about LGBTQ people from the children’s rooms had “nothing to do with anyone’s personal sense of pride,” she said, but was “about presenting age-appropriate material to the library’s young patrons.”

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Javed Iqbal

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