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Public Libraries Celebrate Pride

by on June 13, 2024

Libraries have been part of the Pride movement and the acknowledgment and celebration of LGBTQIA+ rights for over 50 years. According to the Library of Congress (LOC) blog, the first Pride parade was held in New York City, on June 27, 1970, the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Since “crossdressing” was illegal in New York at that time, organizers were concerned that police might target trans and gender non-conforming marchers. However, not a single arrest was made. Smaller inaugural Pride events were also held in Los Angeles and Chicago.

On July 1 of that same year at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in Detroit, MI, the “Task Force on Gay Liberation” met for the first time. In 1992, the Task Force sponsored its first ALA pre-conference program, a half-day session titled “When Sex is the Question, Who Answers?” Task Force members marching in the San Francisco Pride Parade were featured on the front cover of the July/August issue of American Libraries. In 1995, the Task Force changed its name to the “Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Task Force” and on June 30, 1999, it was promoted to round table status and became the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Round Table. In 2019, it was renamed to the Rainbow Round Table.

According to the LOC, the purpose to the commemorative Pride month is to “recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.” June Pride celebrations at libraries include a variety of programs for all ages, all aimed at educating the community about LGBTQIA+ topics and interests and inviting everyone in the community to participate. Many libraries provide special LGBTQIA+ displays, events, and programs in June in honor of the history of Pride. There are also physical signs of welcome and support such as banners and flags. Many libraries keep these flags up year-round. Since Drag Queen Story Hour burst on the scene in 2015 in San Francisco and then New York, many library systems have also added the popular programs to their Pride offerings.

Anne Arundel County PRIDE Celebration
Skip Auld, CEO of Anne Arundel County Public Library (AACPL) in Maryland shared that although there have been complaints and protests, AACPL has stood firm in their commitment to Pride programming and providing materials that are valuable to the LGBTQIA+ community. “Our libraries have presented LGBTQIA+ programs for many years, and of course we provide books and other materials related to Pride themes. I’m especially proud myself that we carry copies of Gender Queer, the most challenged book of the past few years. Community focus on our LGBTQIA+ programming intensified in 2018 and 2019 when we presented our first drag queen Storytimes. In general, our community rallied around their library system. This support led to a transformed Board of Trustees and expansion of programs and other resources.  Those years also saw the founding of Annapolis Pride and One Pasadena, whose motto is “Building a Safe and Inclusive Community.” We’ve had presence at all the Pride parades and festivals ever since.”

Pride offerings continue to expand every year. This June, AACPL will offer Rainbow Storytimes at many locations; Pride Art Nights; a Library Lock –in, Pride Edition; Pride BinGLOW; LGBTQ+ Trivia nights; and some educational programming including “From Twilight to Sunshine: LGBTQ+ History in Maryland” and “The First Pride Was a Riot: The Enduring Legacy of Stonewall.”

The partnership with Annapolis Pride, established in 2018, was solidified when the organization advocated for AACPL during a public controversy regarding Drag Queen Storytime. The group rallied support from the LGBTQIA+ community to testify at library board meetings and publicly support the library. Many who testified shared how meaningful it was to see themselves reflected in books or attend programs celebrating the queer community.

“We are proud to partner with Anne Arundel County Public Library and appreciate their commitment to serving everyone in our community,” said Annapolis Pride Board Chair Joe Toolan. “They recognize that Pride is a year-round celebration, and they continue provide materials and programs that recognize the diverse stories of the LGBTQIA+ community.” Auld was honored to be selected as the Grand Marshal of the Annapolis Pride parade in 2020 to publicly acknowledge the partnership with the library.

More Public Library PRIDE Celebrations
Joslyn Dixon, interim director of New Rochelle Public Library in New York shared that one of their main Pride events will be featuring a Tween Book Club with local author Phil Stamper. Since the program is for young teens, they will alert the caregivers about the content a week before the program. They are also hosting a Drag Queen Story Hour in mid-June. The event has received complaints and attracted protestors in the past, so they will have administration and board members in attendance.

At Virginia Beach Public Library in Virginia, Director Kimberly Bray Knight said they will offer a variety of Pride programming, booklists and displays throughout June. Program topics vary with examples including STEM programming like Cubetto Pride Parade, Love Makes a Family Storytime, and art-based programming like Glowing with Pride. They are also holding two large scale Pride events in August this year, a time when there are fewer programs for the LGBTQIA+ community. These events are LGBTQIA + Family Pride Day and Teen Pride Night and will be designed to provide support for kids going back to school.

Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland, has a statement on their website that says, “Authenticity/Love/Inclusion/Respect. That’s what PRIDE means to the Pratt.” They also state that “PRIDE is a time we set aside to collectively honor our LGBTQ+ community’s past, to celebrate our shared humanity, and to reflect on our country’s movements to advance equal rights for all.”

Pratt and most major urban library systems offer an extensive array of Pride programs. New York Public Library has an extensive collection of over 100,000 LGBTQ books, magazines, newspapers, and archival materials They also provide booklists such as “New Books for Kids to Celebrate Pride” and “Stand Against Book Banning: LGBTQ+ Titles Targeted for Censorship.”

Although June is a focus of Pride celebrations, many libraries also promote LGBTQ interest books and provide programs to celebrate LGBTQIA+ History Month and Coming Out Day in October and Transgender Day of Visibility Day on March 31.  Of course, LGBTQIA+ collections, programs, and services are not limited to June, but provided throughout the year as part of regular operations.

It’s clear that the movement to celebrate Pride has swept libraries across the country, however every library representative I spoke with about Pride and LGBTQIA+ offerings also mentioned complaints, protests, and even threats. Smaller, more conservative communities have not embraced Pride activities to the same extent, especially as many are also fighting book challenges. The battle for equal representation and free expression continues.

Libraries are committed to providing a safe space for everyone. This is even more true in June when Pride flags can be seen adorning libraries across the country. The activists from 1970 would be so very proud but would recognize they still have more battles to fight!


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