by Hal Patnott
Last week, I planned to write an entirely different post today, but, in the early hours of Sunday morning, everything changed. One hateful man with a semi-automatic assault rifle killed 49 people and injured over 50 more at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida. This tragedy was not a random act of violence, but a deliberate act of hatred. During Pride Month–a time of year set aside for celebrating our community and our continued fight for equality–a violent and ignorant act ended the lives of 49 human beings with families, friends, and futures in one of the few spaces in our society where they should have been able to freely express themselves and their love. Let’s not forget, he also attacked on a night of cultural celebration. It was Latinx Night at Pulse. More than 90% of the victims belong to the Latinx community. The attack on Pulse was not an isolated incident of hatred either. Evidence from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence shows that LGBTQ People of Color face a significantly higher risk of homicide and violence. Those of us in the LGBTQ community grow up with messages from the media and our peers telling us not to exist. A survey conducted by the Human Rights Campaign reveals that LGBTQ youth are two times more likely than their peers to experience physical assault at school. The bullying doesn’t end when we grow up. We are accused of crimes we’ve never committed and then barred from fulfilling basic needs like using the bathroom.
In his address on Sunday following the massacre, President Obama said, “In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. We will not give in to fear and turn against each other.” He reminds Americans that to continue to “actively do nothing” about the violence in our country “is a decision.” LGBTQ people live in every city across the United States, and, whether you realize it or not, we stand on both sides of the reference desk in the library. Since Sunday, leaders in the library profession have spoken out about the tragedy in Orlando. Sari Feldman, President of the ALA, promises in her statement that, “In defiance of fear, ignorance and intolerance, the library community will continue its profound commitment to transforming communities by lending its support.” The chair of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Round Table, Peter Coyl also writes, “Libraries can and should be safe places. Even if you are far from Orlando, there are those you serve who are affected by this tragedy. They are looking for help and hope.” Libraries must offer more than empty promises to serve everyone in the community.
So, this is the part when you may be asking how you can help. June is GLBT Book Month. It’s not too late to raise awareness by building a display or making finding aids like bibliographies to increase access for your patrons. Don’t stop at the end of the month, though. Recommend diverse books to all patrons all year round. GLBT books aren’t just for GLBT readers. Evaluate the collection you have and make sure you can provide patrons with representation for all sexual orientations, gender identities, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. If you don’t know where to start, the Rainbow List is an excellent resource. Consider how you catalog and where you shelve these materials. Above all, think critically about how you treat people. Watch out for the assumptions in your language about gender identity. Don’t contribute to a culture of hatred and fear by reacting with Islamophobia. Remember that everyone walks into the library with a different narrative and different needs. We say the library serves everyone, but as librarians it’s our responsibility to actively open the doors and welcome them.
We affirm and support the thoughts and recommendations outlined here, and aspire for the library community to be a model of service to all communities.
Janice M. Del Negro, associate professor
Diane Foote, assistant dean and curator, Butler Children’s Literature Center
Sujin Huggins, assistant professor
Kate Marek, dean and professor
Alena Rivers, graduate assistant, Butler Children’s Literature Center