Williamsport, Pa. - At the same time the Lycoming County Commissioners were holding their weekly meeting inside the Executive Plaza building on Tuesday, a rally and dance party was held outside the building in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
The rally was also to protest Commissioners Scott Metzger and Tony Mussare’s request that the James V. Brown Library re-shelve a display of books in the children’s wing, largely about gender identity, in honor of Pride month.
A request to the library’s executive director to take down the pride display, and a subsequent Facebook post made by Metzger provoked a widespread and vocal reaction, one that occupied most of the meeting - which spilled into more than four hours - to dedicate to public comment on the subject.
Thirty-six people addressed the commissioners at the microphone with impassioned messages of support for the library, the display, and overall acceptance for a community that has historically been marginalized. There were also statements of support for the commissioners to continue to “stand their ground.”
Both Metzger and Mussare reinforced that they were elected to their positions based on their values and character and that they had a responsibility to the constituents of the county.
In the end, the library will not be required to take the display down. “It was a request,” said Metzger, who made it clear that the library’s funding is not in jeopardy over the issue.
“Sexual identity is an intense personal matter handled in private,” said Metzger, with the guidance of parents, clergy, medical professionals, educators, and librarians, who can point out appropriate resources.
Commissioner Rick Mirabito noted the word “lifestyle” referenced multiple times.
“We have to think about ‘lifestyle’ versus ‘who I am,’” he said. LGBTQ+ individuals do not choose a lifestyle, they resonate with a personal identity, and there is a difference, according to Mirabito.
At heart of the issue is whether or not children should be exposed to books about gender identity and characters in books who are LGBTQ+.
One speaker, Joanne Rinker, said she did not want to have that conversation with her five-year-old grandson. “We don’t need this controversy,” she said, and it should be left to “God’s will that a child stumbles across the books on the shelf,” should they need those messages. Books on that subject, she said, should not be out in full view.
However, many other speakers said that having books that would have affirmed their “difference” - which they recognized at a young age - in plain view would have been life-affirming.
Mirabito added that parents and caregivers bring their children to the library. “If we can’t divert the attention of a five-year-old in a library full of so many things,” he said, “we might need to practice that.”
In a statement by Barbara McGary, executive director of the James V. Brown Library, she said, “There is a formal process to challenge materials at the library. As part of that process, patrons receive a copy of our policy and a statement of concern form or request for reconsideration so that they can articulate on their own why they do not want these items in the library."
I spoke to one of the commissioners about this process on Tuesday morning before the commissioners’ meeting and gave him the forms. To this date, we have not received any formal statements from them. I planned on discussing this in executive session with the James V. Brown Library Board of Trustees during the next board meeting," McGary continued.
McGary said that before this particular issue, commissioners have been supportive of the library’s mission and have advocated for an increase in the public library subsidy.
“So many families with children that identify as LGBTQIA+ told me they value these books and resources and are grateful they are welcome in their public library,” McGary also said. “I want to make it very clear that every person should feel welcome, valued and honored at the public library.”
Donations in support of the library have come in a variety of ways. Hannah and Jesse Darrow, owners of the Sawhorse Cafe in Williamsport made Pride cupcakes that sold out quickly the first day, with just a bit of promotion on social media. “We were just going to sell them on Friday,” said Hanna Darrow, “but they were so successful, we sold them through Sunday.”
The Sawhorse Cafe received $946 in donations for the James V. Brown Library, which they matched, raising a total of $1,892. “And donations continue to come in,” Hanna Said.
Outside, the rally and dance party began with a speech by Jay Grandis, lead organizer and president of West Branch Pride. Grandis emphasized that “growing up in Central Pennsylvania, we have had to fight, fight, fight” against discrimination and for equality for the LGBTQ+ community.
Members of and allies of the LGBTQ+ community danced and voiced messages of support to one another.
One little girl came to the rally with her mother and grandmother.
Dawn Wein, her grandmother, said her granddaughter has two aunts who are a couple. “She’s young” said Wein, “but she sees her two aunts together so she knows something.”
Alisha Wein, one of her aunts, said, “books will not make kids be like me. If they did, then I would be exactly who they wanted me to be,” referring to Metzger and Mussare.
Both the local committees of the Democratic Party and the Libertarian Party have also come out in support of the library and the LGBTQ+ community.
Luke Moyer, Chairperson for the Lycoming County Libertarian Committee addressed the crowd.
“Commissioner Metzger displays a staggering lack of awareness as to what actually influences children in a society. Every single day our children have exposures. We expose them to the best practices to walk across the street, we expose them to the proper means of acquiring goods in a purchase from an establishment, we expose them to how they should address other people in a conversation, and we expose them to our relationships,” he said.
“If that relationship happens to be straight, then that is what they are exposed to. If that relationship happens to be gay, then that is what they are exposed to. Bi, trans, poly, exposure to all of it only adds to life, liberty, and the human experience," Moyer said.
While the debate will likely go on, a statement of appreciation from the library said, “The Library firmly champions the Library Bill of Rights, which states that ‘Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.'
“The Library is a safe space for all people to find information important to them. We remain steadfast in our mission to serve the community and are guided by our mission statement: The James V. Brown Library is the place to go to learn, connect, and grow.”