From anti-drag laws to bans of gender affirming care for young people, it’s no secret that the attacks on LGBTQ American are intensifying. Make no mistake, this is a big deal. If any of the laws pass, they likely will go to the Supreme Court and those decisions can last 50 years.
The bills are already having implications on youth mental health, deepening an already alarming mental health crisis. And then there’s the book bans: Of the 1,600 books being banned in the US, 4 in 10 are LGBTQ-related, according to a 2022 study by PEN America.
“Book bans internalize a sense of shame and isolation within young LGBTQ+ people, especially as many struggle to find self-acceptance and self-love,” said Ricardo Martinez, CEO of LGBTQ+ political advocacy organization Equality Texas, to the 19th.
Last month, a bill was proposed in Indiana, which would criminally punish school librarians if material is “sexually explicit,” in which the bill’s vague phrasing could be used to censor LGBTQ books. A school board meeting in Florida lasted over five hours, debating whether certain LGBTQ books were school appropriate, claiming them to be an “abomination before God”.
As lawmakers seek to control and censor student access to LGBTQ books in school, librarians and libraries are perhaps more urgent than ever. It is through librarians’ work that allow LGBTQ people to engage with their past, present, and future selves and each other, ultimately providing the community a roadmap for circumstances like in Indiana, Florida, and more.
Librarians and educators have been at the frontlines resisting and challenging book bans across the country over the last few years and in history. So on this last day in February, which happens to be Library Lovers’ Month, we’re highlighting queer, trans and non-binary librarian heroes across the country who are curating, cultivating, and preserving LGBTQ stories.
Forrest Evans (Atlanta)
Forrest Evans (she/her) is the self-proclaimed Favorite Librarian who wants people to enjoy reading and researching because literature is a “collective narrative” where every intersection of storytelling is “essential, welcomed, and beautiful.” Having been supported by Black and Asian librarians throughout her childhood, it was a given that Evans herself would become a librarian.
“Libraries allow you to find balance along your individual journey and pursue enlightenment,” Evans said. As a new member of the Board of Directors for Atlanta Pride, she is looking forward to combating anti-LGBTQ bills by amplifying queer BIPOC voices, uplifting their cultures, and circulating histories of queer communities in the Metro-Atlanta and throughout Georgia.
Gabby Womack (Boston)
Gabby Womack (she/her) AKA Bookish AfroLatina is a librarian with a passion for uncovering stories of BIPOC, LGBTQ, and disabled communities. Through her antiracism efforts and bookstagram, an Instagram page dedicated to books and literary discussions, Womack is dedicated to supporting these underrepresented groups.
Womack’s bookstagram was founded in early 2021, initially as a place to just share book recommendations and her current reads, but eventually developed into a platform for activism through diverse reading. According to Womack, “[as a librarian,] the books we choose to purchase and display, the events we host or allow in our space, the people we hire, and how we treat our patrons give our communities an idea of who should feel safe and supported.”
Olivia Newsome (New York City)
Olivia Newsome (she/her) is the self-proclaimed “lesbrarian in training”. She also volunteers at the Lesbian Herstory Archives. Having contemplated becoming an archeologist or a history teacher, Newsome knew she craved something relevant and eventually landed on becoming a librarian. For her, librarianship closes the distance between the interest in forming intimate connections with material culture and the dedication to community service.
Newsome focuses on how to apply disability justice to the larger work as information professionals, and her personal research is on Disability Theory, Crip Theory, Queer Studies, Black Diasporic, and Lesbian Studies. Newsome basks in library work that empowers marginalized people to own their histories in the present, asking: “How can we best preserve and steward histories of now to support future generations’ inquiries?”
Patricia Elzie-Tuttle (Oakland)
Patricia Elzie-Tuttle (she/her) is a writer, podcaster, and librarian. Aside from being a regular contributor for Book Riot, her writing has been published in Body Talk: 37 Voices Explore Our Radical Anatomy, edited by Kelly Jensen and Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 4, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel. Elzie-Tuttle is co-host of the All the Books and All the Backlist podcast, where she recommends a variety of reads. Her weekly newsletter, Enthusiastic Encouragement & Dubious Advice offers self-improvement and mental health advice and resources that pull from her experience as a queer, Black, & Filipina woman. She lives in Oakland with her wife and “a positively alarming amount of books”.
Lauren Crowe (Glen Ellyn)
Lauren Crowe (she/her) is a current master’s student at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill studying library science. She spent three years as a classroom teacher, and during her third year almost lost her job due to having LGBTQ-inclusive books in her classroom.
Currently, Crowe is pursuing a career in public or school libraries, with a focus on teen services. She believes that her queer identity is an asset and hopes she can support LGBTQ youth in the library by promoting inclusive literature and resources. Banning books silences stories of marginalized communities and Lauren will continue working to advocate for others.
Nia Pipkin-Glover (Portland)
Nia Pipkin-Glover (they/them) was looking into graduate programs for Art and Design History when they saw there were more options for dual programs that included Library and Information Sciences, which seemed like a nice way to diversify their skillset for a bit of job security. Though like many other librarians, they had a very positive relationship with the libraries growing up and well into adulthood.
As they continue their career, it has become more about facilitating information accessibility and “trying to figure out ways to subvert hegemony in the profession”. In grad school, Pipkin-Glover created a timeline, showcasing the history of Black participation in libraries—not only as librarians, but also as patrons “and how we’ve been excluded from these spaces”.
Emily Drabinski (New York City)
Emily Drabinski (she/her) is the president-elect of the American Library Association (ALA). A Critical Pedagogy Librarian at the Mina Rees Library at the Graduate Center, City University of New York with over twenty years of experience as a librarian, she believes in building worker power as a means of transforming workplaces, communities, and each other, and that institutions—school, public, academic, and special libraries—are fundamental infrastructures of the public good.
It’s also the small things about librarianship that fulfil Drabinski; helping a student get the research they need to complete a paper, showing a faculty member where they can find the bathroom, unjamming the stapler and even troubleshooting the printer. Despite the accessibility the internet has given LGBTQ and BIPOC communities to find themselves, Drabinski finds that libraries are still sacred places for people discovering themselves in private. “If we can pull together in this moment [of book bans] and stand up for what we all know is right, I know we’re going to win.”
Ashby Combahee (Atlanta)
Ashby Combahee (s/he/they) is a Black transmasculine lesbian memory worker. They are the head of the Septima Clark Learning Center, which houses Highlander’s library, archives, bookstore, and memory worker training program. Combahee started as a music librarian during their undergraduate studies at Bennington College in Vermont. Since then, they have been immersed in the world of librarianship, oral history, and archival, having worked on projects like the now-defunct Iron Rail Book Collective in New Orleans and the New York Public Library’s community oral history project.
For Combahee, books, archives and historical research are “portals” into ways of living, and as a memory worker, their purpose is to expand the access to those portals via documentation. “I do not take a reactionary approach to the censorship and outlawing we see across the South today. People like me have always been under attack since the very founding of this nation. They can try to bury us, but we are seeds of fire and we will never stop fighting.”
Anastasia “Stacy” M. Collins (Boston)
Anastasia “Stacy” M. Collins (she/they) is also known as Dark Literata. Shortly after undergraduate college and an editorial assistant job that Collins despised, she realized publishing “wasn’t really how I wanted to contribute to change.” Collins nursed their bruised expectations by presenting a paper at a children’s literature symposium, and during a panel about marginalized representation (especially Black and queer) in children’s books, librarians came up as a group situated to impact both the publishing and reading worlds.
According to Collins, the light bulb that went off may have actually been visible above her head. A decade later, librarianship has allowed them to contribute in ways they never thought of, from book reviews to book guides, research support to instructional design, articles to anti-oppression consultation. “At our best, libraries are sites of community power, and on the best days, I get to be a conduit for that power. I get to uplift books that my Black and queer students and patrons see themselves in—nothing more powerful than that.”
Hallothon “Hal” Patnott (Chicago)
Hallothon “Hal” Patnott (he/him) is the resident children’s librarian at Oak Park Public Library, specializing in working with LGBTQIA+ youth and allies. Growing up, Patnott lived in Holland, Michigan, a small conservative town with little access to books and resources that showcased trans people. After discovering the trans community as well as his own transness during his undergraduate studies, Patnott moved to Chicago for his Master’s in Library and Information Sciences at Dominican University.
As the library’s Rainbow Services Librarian, he also developed resource kits that aim to help caregivers facilitate conversations about gender identity with their children in an age-appropriate way.
Maxine Wolfe (New York City)
Maxine Wolfe (she/her) has had extensive on-the-ground experience in leftist organizing, dating all the way back to the 60s. At the age of ten, she would go pick up ten random books from the library and read them all simply because she loved reading. Later on, Wolfe founded ACT UP New York’s Women’s Caucus. A founder of the Lesbian Avengers and the NYC Dyke March, Wolfe’s activism was initially dedicated to reminding the public that women were excluded from both the federal definition of AIDS as well as the public’s perception of the epidemic.
Because HIV/AIDS messaging targeted gay men and heterosexual women, in 1988, Wolfe and other ACT UP women proposed a demonstration to remind straight men that they, too, had a responsibility in ending the epidemic. At 81 years old, Wolfe is currently a Coordinator of the Lesbian Herstory Archives and Professor Emerita in the Psychology Department of the CUNY Graduate School.
Simone Fujita (Los Angeles)
Simone Fujita (she/her) is an art librarian/archivist, zine librarian, and Black art bibliographer who is “all about critical library collection development + documentation of QT/BIPOC artists.” As the bibliographer of Getty’s African American Art History Initiative, she leads library collection development efforts for the research institute. Her work entails expanding the library’s collections around African American Art to support advanced research on Black artists in the US and in the diaspora, be it through books, zines, periodicals and other types of unusual print or ephemeral publication such as electronic resources.
Overall, Fujita’s work enables her to expand Getty Library’s multidisciplinary print and electronic holdings on Black art and draw up ways the Getty’s resources could complement other existing sites for African American art research.
Anthony Wright de Hernandez (Blacksburg)
Anthony Wright de Hernandez (he/him) is the Community and Cultural Centers librarian, resident librarian, and Community Collections archivist of Virginia Tech University. He is the coordinator of the Virginia Tech QTPOC Oral History Project, an initiative to collect the stories of queer and trans people of color in the New River Valley and Southwest Virginia in hopes to tell the full and diverse story of Virginia Tech’s history.
In teaching future professionals in the field, Wright de Hernandez emphasizes the vital consideration of whose voices and perspectives are missing as much as those preserved. For him, the most important way to begin to build trust is to be an active part of the community, participating in events and getting to know people.
Cyrée Jarelle Johnson (Piscataway)
Cyrée Jarelle Johnson (he/him) was the Brooklyn Public Library’s first poet-in-residence. Johnson is the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Librarian and an assistant professor at Pratt Institute, where he provides innovative library instruction as well as develops online orientations for students.
He is the author of Slingshot, which was a winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. Johnson was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for his poem “chewbaca was the blackest part of The Force Awakens.” As an artist of the disability justice movement, Johnson said in a statement in January, “I have come to believe that the shape of a poem can act as a body does—carving out a distinctive shape that helps us better understand both the poem itself and the background from which it emerged.”