LGBTQ at the Library
Posted by Yves Etheart
Libraries play a unique role in American society as places where all members of their community are welcome and treated with equity, regardless of class, race, gender, or sexual orientation.
Queens Library spoke with members of our staff about how they make LGBTQ customers feel welcome at Queens Library, and also asked them about their own experiences and feelings of inclusion at libraries.
Libraries were a treasured resource for me when I was young and figuring out my identity. Libraries opened my world to books and other media that gave me positive queer role models, as well as giving me the language and ideas to help me better understand who I was and who I could be as a queer person, both in orientation and gender. Not only that, I could always trust and depend on respectful and discreet help finding books and resources while living in a small conservative town. None of the librarians or clerks ever batted an eyelash at my inter-library loan choices and requests, and I always felt quietly accepted when I was within the building. As a librarian now, I work hard to do the same thing for any/all of my patrons. I've given presentations on LGBTQ collection development to my fellow librarians; and in my previous positions back in my home state of Michigan, I helped expand collections of LGBTQ titles. Stories are vital to marginalized communities, particularly youth, and representation is important. As such, libraries providing access to these stories are equally vital.
– Amy Call, Librarian, Long Island City Community Library
The original mission of Queens Library’s New Americans Program was to acquaint new immigrant groups with the Library in the hope that they, too, would get library cards, start using our libraries, and avail themselves of our many services. We accomplished this through cultural arts and coping skills programming that celebrated their diverse cultures or addressed their needs in their languages. We are proud to note that, through the years, NAP has been at the cutting edge of inclusiveness. As such, we’ve expanded our targeted groups to include the LGBTQ community. In fact, for the past couple of years, NAP has joined the LGBTQ community of Queens in celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month! This year, we are screening the Academy Award-winning biopic The Danish Girl at Flushing Library on June 28. We felt that this touching film was timely due to many factors, including Caitlyn Jenner’s story and the previous presidential administration’s public support of transgender rights. NAP wanted to show the transgender community that we are including them in our mosaic of celebrated diverse groups and that they too are welcome at our library.
– Radamés Suárez, Spanish Language Collections / Cultural Arts Librarian, New Americans Program
Last year, I started the first Teen LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual) Club at Queens Library, at our Cambria Heights location. The club provides a forum for LGBTQIA teens to be themselves and talk about serious and fun topics. I've always had a hand in LGBTQ relations and issues, starting from when I was in high school, then going to college and being a part of my college's first Gay-Straight Alliance, and serving as a volunteer librarian at the LGBT Center in Manhattan for a few years before I started at Queens Library. It has always been important to me to support, advocate for, and learn from LGBTQ people of all ages. When I started at Cambria Heights, the first question I asked was, "Do you have any LGBTQ youth here?" When I heard the answer was yes, I immediately advocated for a club.
Every meeting has a monthly topic. In the past, we've covered issues like "The impact of having a real-life role model vs. a celebrity one;" "Coming out in sports: Professional athletes who come out and coming out as a teen athlete;" "Having Homophobic Friends: Personal Advocacy;” and "Confidence and Being Yourself." The goal is to give teens a forum to talk in an open, non-judgmental space. Of course, life experiences are shared as well and it makes the club relatable for everyone. I wish we could do activities like going on visits to relevant sites or seeing relevant plays, but unfortunately we don't have the budget for it. I would love to invite some LGBTQIA speakers in to converse with club members (not to lecture them), because the teens are so curious about the world outside their communities. I want them to be able to meet other LGBTQIA people and learn about their lives and what affects them. Teens who are interested in joining can just come to the Cambria Heights Teen Center or call 718-528-3535 for more information.
– Amber Loveless, Young Adult Librarian, Cambria Heights Community Library
I think that what public libraries can provide for LGBTQ and Questioning kids/teens is most importantly a "safe haven" for them. Maybe they don't feel comfortable approaching their school librarian as they look for books that feature gay characters. Maybe their school environment doesn't lend itself to that, or carry Young Adult books by some of our more popular authors that feature LGBTQ characters. I think that's where we definitely come in!
For instance, Queens Library can promote/celebrate some of the YA authors who do a great job of featuring LGBTQ/Questioning characters—I just read the latest from one of my favorite YA authors, Bill Konigsberg, called Honestly Ben, which is a continuation of his earlier book, Openly Straight, which I highly recommend. And many years ago, I attended a local library conference at which a YA librarian talked about their library having a prom for LGBTQ kids, and I thought that was a great idea. Talk about showing kids that their public library supports them!
I think it's important that we find creative ways of letting our young people know that we as librarians/library staff welcome them and that we're here for them.
– Adrianne Noroian, Children's Librarian, Windsor Park Community Library
Coming from the conservative rural Midwest, hiding my sexual orientation was not optional—it could literally mean life or death. As many have done before me, migrating to a large city promised the freedom of living a fully “out” life. However, careers in large insurance, financial, and pharmaceutical corporations, with their conservative cultures, put me right back into hiding. Twenty years later, I set about a drastic career change, got my Master of Library Science (MLS) degree, and joined Queens Library. From day one, I have felt completely welcome and open to discuss my life—which I proudly share with my husband. The impact of this became clear to me when a frequent customer told me I was the first gay person she met who was open and unapologetic about their sexual orientation. I’ll never forget this moment, because she remarked that she found my confidence inspiring. What this customer touched upon is, at least in part, the accepting culture of libraries.
As Queens Library President and CEO Dennis Walcott puts it, libraries are truly for everyone. This organization, and all other libraries I have been associated with, have shown me that I am free to be me. After all, we’re all human beings and we all need and deserve access to information and resources. Indeed, these support the foundation of our democracy. I have never been prouder to be part of an organization as I am at Queens Library. With every customer who comes through our doors, we get the distinct privilege to connect them with information, scholarship, entertainment, and community, without regard to who they love. In my opinion, there could be no more meaningful mission in life.
– Thomas Maxheimer, Assistant Community Library Manager, Hillcrest Community Library