he head of the Mid-Continent Public Library Board of Trustees recently issued a written statement, defending a controversial library program about living a transgender lifestyle. In the statement, a blog post late last week on the library’s website, board president Michelle Wycoff said, “Trans 101” was in part a reaction to suicides by two Lee’s Summit teens.
A library spokesman added that the teens, members of the LGBTQ community, were victims of bullying. Wycoff’s letter further states that the tragic deaths sparked “a broad community conversation…to explore how to support our LGBTQ+ citizens.”
The already-controversial program received more attention when a member of the library board of trustees, who lives in and represents Platte County, wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in the Nov. 6 edition of The Landmark. In the letter, Rita Wiese was critical of the trans program, stating that the program is graphically explicit and that they are promoting “materials and programs that lead children to ward being sexually exploited.”
In interviews, Wiese has stated that her efforts are aimed at protecting innocent children and she has been approached by 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.
Telephone messages left for Wiese, seeking reaction to Wycoff’s remarks, were not returned by deadline.
Wycoff’s letter also states that library staff “have a set of policies and procedures they follow in selecting materials and programs.” The letter stated that those policies were followed “in developing the Trans 101 program in response to a community request and will continue to follow them as they select future materials and programs.”
Platte County resident Janet Stark, who joined others in voicing their opinions during a library board of trustees meeting a few weeks ago, said then she was disappointed that the library does not have Bibles on shelves. However, a spokesman for the library said Bibles are available but are part of a “floating collection,” meaning they can be requested from another branch.
“Items don’t stay at the same branch all the time,” Emily Brown, Mid-Continent public relations coordinator, told The Landmark.
The library has “50 print copies of the Bible, the Bible in Audiobook form, and the eBook version. We also have many reference resources that include sections of the Bible,” she wrote, adding that digital and audio versions “would be immediate downloads.”
Stark, who also complained that she could find no books about opposing views of trans, such as how to reverse the trans process. But Jim Staley, Mid-Continent’s community relations and planning director, wrote in an email, “there are books with varying views on transgenderism in the collection.”
The program, which was led by a local transgender educator and repeated at Lee’s Summit, Buckner and Blue Springs branches during September and October, follows the board’s mission “to enrich our citizens and communities through expanding access to innovation, information, ideas and inspiration,” Wycoff wrote. The 12-member board, which represent Jackson, Clay and Platte Counties from which they serve and live, has a mission that “can, and always will be, challenging to achieve given the divergent views, needs and interests of a library district that serves over 816,000 individuals across a wide range of communities,” the letter continues.
The values of “intellectual freedom and inclusion” are among those that support the mission statement,” guaranteeing services “regardless of income, education, beliefs, identity, abilities, age, or race.”
Wycoff’s letter addresses Wiese’s letter to the editor, which she signed using her title as a member of the library board of trustees: “Personal opinions of individual board members should not be confused with the position of the board, nor the position of library leadership and staff,” Wycoff wrote.
Wycoff’s letter concludes, “Everyone is welcome at the library, including members of the LGBTQ+ community, and we look forward to serving each and every one of you.”