A handful of Rio Rancho residents pleaded with the city council to ban books that they find offensive from the public library while others defended keeping them in the stacks.
It was made clear by councilors and the city manager during the public comment session of the April 13 meeting that there was no item about the banning of books and there isn’t one in the works yet either.
Of the 35 people signed up for public comment, four were asking for a ban from the council. The rest were outraged.
Michael Jackovich, the first of the book ban group to speak, specified which books were offensive to him and called them predatory.
“These books are in the adult section but have no consequences for children under the age of 18 to find them and check them out,” he said.
The books he brought to the meeting were all books relating to the LGBTQIA community.
The first book was “The Art of Drag” by Jake Hall, the second was “Once a Girl, Always a Boy” by Jo Ivester and the last was “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson.
Jackovich says he and his group have tried to bring this to the attention of the Board of Library Directors but the last meeting was canceled due to lack of agenda items.
“These books have no social value,” Jackovich said.
“This Book is Gay” has a chapter about the ins and outs of gay sex with pictures and diagrams, which Jackovich found to be inappropriate.
“This is about protecting our children,” he added.
Jackovich wasn’t the only one asking this of city council.
Tanya Watkins, an educator and resident involved in various organizations, said, “I speak out now, against that very endeavor to deceptively manipulate with an agenda directed at subtly attacking us at our very core — the family.”
Watkins already has concern for children as she is a teacher.
“It is that concern for our children, specifically, that moves me to appeal to you, Mr. Deputy Mayor and Councilors, regarding the egregious efforts to subject our posterity to an agenda which would expose them to the vulgarity of pornography under the guise of calling it literature and argue freedom of speech,” she said.
Watkins added that these books are a misappropriation of tax dollars and that she would never be allowed to share these in her classroom.
Both Jackovich and Watkins cited New Mexico Statute 30, Article 37, Section 2 which, under the heading “Sexually Oriented Material Harmful to a Minor,” states, “It is unlawful for a person to knowingly sell, deliver, distribute, display for sale or provide to a minor, or knowingly to possess with intent to sell, deliver, distribute, display for sale or provide to a minor.”
The full statute can be found at https://law.justia.com/codes/new-mexico/2018/chapter-30/article-37/section-30-37-2/.
Others who spoke to the council disagreed with Jackovich and Watkins.
Rev. Judith Deutsch, who is coming up on her 94th birthday, remembers when “The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger was being considered for removal in New Jersey 1955.
“I am old enough to have listened to Hitler talk in the Sunday movie newsreels. I am old enough to have seen books burning on the news and in pictures,” she said.
Deutsch added that the first group targeted by the Nazi party was homosexuals.
“I think we are doing quite a few things in this country that are leading to fascism. Please don’t ban books,” she said.
Her sentiment was shared by many at that council meeting.
Ivan Torres, a senior high school student, says traditional families “aren’t a thing.”
“I come from a proud LGBTQ mother family. They’re the best support I’ve ever had in my life,” he said.
Torres went on to explain how books such as the ones described above have helped him learn.
“These books cover things that aren’t discussed in the education system, and they provide a perspective on LGBTQ life,” he said.
He also says the push to ban books which happen to be LGBTQ-based is not an accident.
“Data suggests that 41% of all books that are challenged are LGBTQ related,” Torres said.
He ended by saying that his generation is the next generation and that they are voting and reading.
The general consensus among the anti-book ban crowd was that the banning of books is unconstitutional and that censorship for children should be up to the parents not the government.
Library Director Jason Shoup explained at the end that there is a process to accepting books into a library collection. They also have a reconsideration process.
The only request the director and librarians received was to add 16 books to the collection.
“Twelve of those books are already in the library, are in the process of being acquired. That is very important in the notion of freedom of information and to also ensure diverse interest and broad interests of the entire community are met,” City Manager Matt Geisel added.
Councilor Karissa Culbreth was thankful for the representation in the public comment section and included that the books mentioned aren’t unique to Rio Rancho libraries.
“They are widely in circulation across the state. They are in public, local and school libraries. They are just part of the vast catalog both for hard copy check-out as well as audio books and electronic books,” she said.
The whole city council meeting can be watched at rrnm.gov/2303/Watch-and-Download-City-Meetings.
This article has been updated with a correction to Tanya Watkins affiliations and corrected versions of her quotes.