Sanibel Residents Clash Over Kid Transgender Books in Public Library at Meeting

By Lydia Nusbaum, Florida's Voice

July 28, 2022 Updated 12:38 PM ET

Sanibel library 2022-07-28 at 11.48.30 AM

July 28, 2022 Updated 11:46 A.M. ET

SANIBEL (FLV) – Residents packed the Sanibel Public Library Board of Commissioners meeting, once again, to voice their thoughts on the controversial transgender books in the kid’s section Thursday. 

Florida’s Voice first reported on parents who were upset to find their kids easily accessing transgender picture books in the children’s section. The books shared stories about young children choosing whether they wanted to be a boy or a girl. 

Parents against the kid gender transitioning books said at the meeting they should not be available in the kid’s section of the library in an accessible manner for young children. 

“Just because a book is written in the style of a children’s book doesn’t mean it’s meant for children,” said parent Matt Gaudreau. “There are certain topics that I don’t want to have brought up yet.”

Those parents want their kids to explore the children’s section of the library without having to analyze every single book they get ahold of.

“I don’t want her wandering over and looking at topics that may confuse her,” Stan said at the meeting. “I want to first have the ability to look and see if this is appropriate at her age.”

Sanibel resident Mike Rob said there is a fine line between indoctrination and education.

“Indoctrination is creating a bias where people accept things uncritically. That’s not education. That’s giving people an opportunity where they can see things and accept them uncritically,” Rob said. “Children… do have an open mind and when they’re exposed to things they accept them uncritically.”

Other Sanibel residents said the library books should belong in the kid’s section to provide an inclusive environment.

“I believe these books belong accessible to children in the children’s section because representation matters,” Laurel said.

Sandy, who is a physician, told the board that parents already have the choice whether or not to check out the book.

“I think these books belong there because children sometimes need to see them,” Sandy said. “If the parents felt the children weren’t ready for them or didn’t wish for them to see them, they have the option of not simply checking those books out.”

“It just seems to me that if a chid picks up one of these books and reads through it, that they do in fact have questions about gender and they are ready,” Bill, a Sanibel resident, said.

The board postponed discussions Thursday to consider proposed policies and procedures regarding youth collection. The library’s executive director, Margaret Mohundro, is in charge of presenting those options to the board but she took a leave of absence due to a tragic family emergency. 

The board will resume discussions on proposed policies once Mohundro returns. The controversial books are still in the library. The board still listened to public comment Thursday. 

Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith also provided a comment at the meeting Thursday. The mayor read an email from a concerned parents about how these “inappropriate” books were placed in the library.

“It was a concerned parent and when we come here today, we’re all concerned on both sides,” Smith said. “What your job is as what my job is, is to listen to those concerned and look at the best policy moving forward.”

Smith said other libraries, including Lee County, have similar books.

“I think you’ve gotten really important input from both sides. But I also want you to know, you are not alone in this.”

Smith refused to answer a question from Florida’s Voice when we approached her at a meeting last week. Florida’s Voice asked the mayor whether she thought the books were appropriate for kids.

While Sanibel residents do pay taxes for the library, the Sanibel Public Library is an independent special district and is not affiliated with the City of Sanibel. However, several Sanibel residents still want to know the mayor’s thoughts on the issue.

On Thursday, the Sanibel Public Library board approved a preliminary millage rate of .435, keeping it the same as the previous year. However, the library’s budget would end up increasing by 13.2% because the island’s property values increased. The board decided against choosing the roll-back millage rate of .386. The board could decide to lower the millage rate at any point, but cannot increase it over a millage rate of .435.

One book concerning to parents is labeled “My Own Way” tells students they can be a boy, girl, both, or none of them.

“Boy or girl doesn’t cover everyone. You might be both. You might be none!” the book said. “You are not only a boy or a girl.”

Another book in the library tells the story of a young girl named Jackie who does not like dresses, so Jackie’s mom allows her to wear “whatever feels right” and cuts Jackie’s hair. The story goes on to share how Jackie changes her name to “Jack” and tells her sister she is now a “brother” instead of a sister.

Florida’s Voice previously asked all seven board members through email whether they believed the books are appropriate for the children’s section. Only two responded. 

Board Chair Melanie Congress did not say whether she thought the books were appropriate. Congress referred to her opening statements saying the library is in “unchartered territory” when it comes to navigating the issue. Congress said the board is balancing what is proper, parental rights, and freedom of information.

Commissioner Roy Gibson referred questions to Executive Director Mohundro and said it would be premature to comment before reviewing all relevant Library policies. 

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