Platte County resident and member of the Mid-Continent Library Board of Trustees helped spark a controversy after her letter to the editor regarding a transgender class was published in a recent edition of The Landmark.
Rita Wiese wrote the letter in response to a recent library class titled “Trans 101,” which carried the following description: “Learn what it means to be transgender and gain a basic understanding what it means to identify this way.”
Wiese’s letter to the editor, published in the Nov. 6 edition of The Landmark, stated her objections to the class and library materials that promote alternative lifestyles and are graphically explicit.
“A once safe community setting known as the public library has become a space that, in the guise of intellectual freedom, wants to change thinking on voyeurism and gender confusion, while promoting materials and programs that lead children toward being sexually exploited,” her letter states.
In an interview after the meeting, Wiese said she has received anonymous threats, including that she would face a “lynching” at last week’s board meeting.
Wiese said a note that was “not friendly” was placed on her home’s front door but she declined to elaborate on its contents. In response, she posted a “no trespassing” sign at her home.
Wiese said her efforts are aimed at protecting innocent children and she has been approached by several library patrons who also are parents who object to “sexually explicit” material in the library and such items will prevent them from using the library.
Steve Potter, director of the Mid-Continent Public Library district, said that Wiese did not consult with Potter or library trustees before she wrote the letter. But because she signed the letter using her board of trustees’ title, many library patrons wrongly assumed Wiese spoke for the board.
However, Potter said he is not sure what action, if any, the board will take in response to Wiese’s letter. Potter said the board’s executive committee will review the matter but had no time frame for a decision.
The library’s 12-member board of trustees’ act as representatives of the patrons who live in the counties they serve but have no say in programming, Potter said.
A separate district’s library program in St. Joseph in which people dressed as “drag queens” read books to children also contributed to the controversy. But prior to patrons speaking, board President Michelle Wycoff said, “drag queen story hour is not a program we have…or have any intention of doing.”
During a telephone interview after the meeting, Potter said that drag queen story hour does “not align with our current strategic plan,” which is to offer services geared to the lifelong success of children.
“The most appropriate person to navigate what children are or are not reading is the parent,” Potter said.
A Sept. 30 blog post by Potter explained the impetus for the transgender class:
“The program was developed in response to requests from community members who felt the information would be helpful for themselves and their families, especially in light of challenges faced by the LGBTQ community.”
During the meeting, Wycoff explained that the 20 patrons who had signed up to speak would be limited to two minutes each in order to keep the meeting from running too long.
“I’m trying to give everybody an opportunity to speak,” she said.
Riley Long, of Kansas City, who led the trans classes, told those gathered at the meeting, that he and other transgenders face a lot of prejudice.
“I shouldn’t have to continue to defend my life from people who don’t understand,” he said, referring to the last few board meetings in which the public was free to voice opinions.
He added that those in the LGBT community already face many obstacles and that disapproval of a person’s gender identity can exacerbate depression, which can also lead to other issues, such as job insecurity and homelessness.
“Being transgender is who I am,” he said. “Give me the same respect I give to you.” Linda Barrier of Independence said during the meeting that she believes being gay is not counter to Christianity. “I am a Christian, and I am a lesbian,” she said. “I know love is love and I know I’m loved, and that’s all I have to say.”
Wiese attended last week’s meeting and was mentioned by name in remarks by several library patrons who spoke in opposition to and in favor of the issue.
Jim DeJarnatt of Weston spoke against the program at the meeting when he said, “I congratulate Ms. Wiese… in what she says.”
During a telephone interview, patron Janet Stark who lives in Platte County, said she officially requested the library order a book titled “The Health Hazards of Homosexuality–What the Medical and Psychological Research Reveals,” by MassResistance.
So far, the book has not appeared on shelves, she said, adding that she also requested libraries have copies of The Bible.
Stark said, “They (library officials) talk about balancing collections. She said, “There are hundreds of books on homosexuality and none of the opposing viewpoint.”