Transgender activism is on the rise here in Kansas City. As members of the LGBTQ community, we welcome our transgender family members under the rainbow umbrella, and we also welcome a local effort to share awareness and information at libraries regarding what it means to be transgender. Too bad these presentations have been put on indefinite hold.
In the fall of 2019, Riley Long, who identifies as transgender and is an active member in the LGBTQ community, worked with Mid-Continent Public Library to put on “Trans 101,” a program designed to educate those interested in learning more about all things trans. Unfortunately, Long’s program has since been placed on the back burner due to toxic transphobic criticism. We’re calling it out for what it is – uneducated hate.
Long was approached last year by the Mid-Continent Public Library, which has about 35 branches in the Kansas City, Mo., area, to conceptualize and present informational sessions about what it means to be transgender. Long worked hard to put together a program that was educational. His target audience was those who may not fully comprehend aspects of transgender life, but who want to have a better understanding.
“I had numerous people who came up to me afterwards,” Long said. “[Among] the most memorable were two grandparents who have a trans granddaughter. They said, ‘We’re so happy to be here. We learned so much. We want to support our granddaughter the best way we can,’ and that really struck me, because though they were in their 70s, [they] had an open heart and open mind.”
Long put on three successful presentations before any further sessions were placed on hold.
The backlash came quickly from a library board member. Mid-Continent Public Library is governed by a 12-member board of trustees, Board member Rita Wiese wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in the Platte County Landmark newspaper on Nov. 6 (bit.ly/2PhCdMp) in opposition to the Trans 101 program. In her letter, she says that 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.”
Other board members were quick to say that Wiese does not speak for the board as a whole and that the program would potentially continue. That is, after some “edits” were made.
One of those edits was heartbreaking to Long, as he was directed to take “Trans” out of the title of the program. “I didn’t want to change the title. I felt like that was morally wrong to take the word ‘transgender’ out of a transgender talk. I felt like they wanted to hide it,” says Long.
Since then, Long has been engaged in countless email threads with various higher-ups at Mid-Continent Public Library.
“I truly believe that they have no intention in scheduling it again. I think that they are going to wait for more and more time to pass for me to stop fighting, for me to disappear and [then] they don’t have to worry about it anymore,” says Long.
Long’s struggle comes at a time when legislation has been introduced in Missouri that would take state funding from libraries if they provide programs and information deemed as “age-inappropriate sexual material.” This bill, called the “Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act” and introduced in January, targets LGBTQ programs such as Trans 101 and Drag Story Time and blatantly mislabels them as deviant, sexual, and predatory.
But these kinds of programs are about education, inclusion, visibility and freedom of information in public libraries. These institutions can provide the LGBTQ community a place of belonging and normalcy in a world that constantly tries to strip them of an identity that feels natural to them.
The lack of firm support for Trans 101 is a sign of the board’s wet-noodle stance on supporting the LGBTQ community. The moment they allowed a single board member’s stance against the program to take hold, they lost the integrity of standing up for equality.
“These people who are opposing [Trans 101] are quoting the Bible and religion, which is fine, but this is not a church. … People think that they control these libraries and can control what happens, but that’s not what libraries are about. They should be about intellectual freedom,” says Long.
He has not heard back about any firm decision from Mid Continent Public Libraries about continuing the Trans 101 program. He has since led several Trans 101 programs in the private sector, all of which have been a success.
“I feel like this has given me the opportunity to be a face and a voice for this community,” Long says. “I feel so strongly about helping this community, about educating allies to make trans people’s lives better. Like I said with the grandparents example earlier, it’s that image and me thinking that they are going to take that knowledge and treat their granddaughter so much better now, not that they weren’t before, but they are going to better understand her.”
An Update from the Library
Camp magazine reached out to Mid-Continent Public Library officials for an update on the status of Trans 101 programs at the library. Here is the statement they gave us from Jim Staley, the library’s community relations and planning director:
“No program has been cancelled at this time. MCPL scheduled two Trans 101 programs in the fall and added an additional program due to the interest created by attention the program received. After that programming schedule was completed (Library programs are scheduled far in advance on a semi-annual basis), MCPL staff — as they do with all programming — began to evaluate the development and implementation, not only of that program, but of all potentially high-profile programming in the system. Out of that evaluation, it was determined that there were several areas of improvement the Library needed to address before moving forward, including better internal and external communication around upcoming programs, effective program moderation, clearer processes regarding customer behavior and customer and staff safety, the inclusion of community partners to enhance available expertise to customers, and internal processes for developing clear program objectives and language. All of this work must be done simultaneously with the continued work on the optimal structure of the Library. The Library is working to address these complicated areas of improvements before scheduling any additional programming. In the meantime, MCPL continues to provide access to information through its robust collection of in-branch and online resources, and staff are committed to ensuring that every customer has access to the resources they need for themselves and their families.”