A Mississippi mayor is allegedly withholding $110,000 in funding from county libraries unless they remove all ‘homosexual materials’ from their shelves.
Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee had refused to send the Madison County Library System its first quarterly payment of 2022, which was already approved by the city.
When Director Tonja Johnson asked why he was withholding the funds, she says he told her it was because the libraries carried LGBTQ books that ‘went against his Christian beliefs.’
‘He explained his opposition to what he called “homosexual materials” in the library, that it went against his Christian beliefs, and that he would not release the money as the long as the materials were there,’ she told the Mississippi Free Press.
Johnson rebuked the mayor by saying that the library system is a public entity rather than a religious institution and serves the whole community.
‘I explained that we are a public library and we serve the entire community. I told him our collection reflects the diversity of our community,’ she said.
Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee is allegedly withholding $110,000 in funding from county libraries because of their ‘homosexual materials’
McGee told Madison County Library System Director Tonja Johnson that the libraries’ LGBTQ books ‘went against his Christian beliefs.’ Above is the Canton Public Library in Ridgeland
‘He told me that the library can serve whoever we wanted, but that he only serves the great Lord above,’ she added.
The Daily Mail reached out to McGee’s office, but did not immediately hear back. The mayor’s officer also did not respond to multiple interview requests from the Mississippi Free Press and McGee was absent from a Board of Alderman meeting on Tuesday at 5pm at Ridgeland Library, the news outlet reported.
The board confirmed that the funding was already set aside for the library in a contract with the city and that the mayor did not have the legal authority to remove it as part of an ultimatum over the libraries’ contents.
Asked by an attendee at the meeting if the mayor could override the contract without approval of the Board of Alderman, Bob Sanders, simply said, ‘Uh, no.’
Johnson said that removing the $110,000, which is roughly 5% of the library system’s annual budget, would ‘definitely impact services.’
‘I can tell you that there’s a potential for staff members to lose their positions if the board is not able to move funding from something else to keep those positions open,’ she said.
Grandad’s Camper is one of the books with which McGee takes issue. It features a young girl taking a road trip with her grandfather after the death of her other grandfather
One book, titled Heather Has Two Mommies, was first published in 1989 and is one of a number of LGBTQ children’s books written by gay author Lesléa Newman
Stella Brings the Family is about a girl with two fathers who brings them to her class Mother’s Day celebration
Other classic young adult/adult novels that the library carries include Perks of Being a Wallflower, Giovanni’s Room and The Color Purple
Johnson said that if the mayor was able to usurp the city board and cut its funding, that the library would consider legal action.
‘This is taxpayer money that was already approved by the board of aldermen. It was included in the city budget for 2021-2022. It’s the general-fund appropriation that the City of Ridgeland sends every year for daily operation of the library. That money goes to everything from purchasing materials to supporting programs and staff salaries,’ she said.
‘I asked the mayor specifically on the phone call if this had been decided by the board of aldermen. And he told me no, but (that) he could have them make that decision,’ Johnson added.
The mayor’s decision could also be in violation of rights based on court cases regarding LGBTQ book bans, such as Sund v. City of Wichita Falls.
‘As a library, our mission is to serve our community and to provide everyone in the community with the information and resources that they need … Anyone can walk into a library and find something that they don’t agree with,’ Johnson told the Mississippi Free Press. ‘But the book that’s not quite right for you is exactly what someone else needs. And my job is to make sure that (everybody) has access to that.
‘And I think it’s important to understand that LGBTQ+ books and materials are not just for the LGBT community. Those books are for all of us: whether we can see ourselves reflected in those materials or so that we can develop understanding, empathy and respect for someone else.’
The library carries a number of books for varying age groups that include LGBTQ characters. One book, titled Heather Has Two Mommies, was first published in 1989 and is one of a number of LGBTQ children’s books written by gay author Lesléa Newman.
It’s about a young girl who brings her two mothers to a playgroup and is upset that she doesn’t have a father, but learns that love is what makes a family. Another, titled Stella Brings the Family, is about a girl with two fathers who brings them to her class Mother’s Day celebration.
Other classic young adult/adult novels that the library carries include Perks of Being a Wallflower, Giovanni’s Room and The Color Purple.
One book that Johnson said has specifically been the subject of complaints is called ‘Granddad’s Camper,’ a children’s book by nonbinary author Harry Woodgate about a young girl learning about her late grandfather by taking a road trip with her surviving grandparent.
The money had already been set aside for the Madison County Library System by the city’s Board of Alderman. Members said that McGee did not have the legal authority to remove the funds without their approval
Woodgate told the Mississippi Free Press in a statement that the story’s intent was to represent the full spectrum of LGBTQ+ individuals, especially queer elders, who are rarely depicted in fiction.
‘From the beginning it was important to me that (Grandad’s Camper) featured truly meaningful LGBTQ+ representation whilst also speaking to broader universal themes such as the beauty of restorative intergenerational relationships, the joy of shared adventures and the experience of losing a loved one,’ they said.
Asked by the news outlet about the mayor’s actions, Woodgate commended the library for standing up for LGBTQ representation. ‘To suggest that limiting access to diverse literature will somehow prevent or dissuade queer children from being queer is simply preposterous, let alone deeply, thoroughly cruel,’ they said.
‘I take great heart in everyone whose tireless dedication to challenging these bans and similar anti-LGBTQ+ legislation across the globe is making such a positive difference to young people and their communities. I firmly believe in the power of books and libraries to change lives so am incredibly thankful for all that they do and anyone who champions and defends them.’