To the Editor
The discussion regarding the two books in question (The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human: Let’s Talk About It and You know, Sex.), and their availability to minors at the Pheobe Griffin Noyes Library has devolved into abstract assumptions, generalities, and accusations. The partial title of one of the challenged books is Let’s Talk About It. Indeed, we should step away from these abstract discussions and actually talk about what exactly is being challenged. Let’s talk about the only two books in question and why they are being challenged. Just as importantly, let’s talk about the issues that are not motivating factors in this challenge.
The library’s room where these books are located is officially labeled “Teen & Tween Space.” According to groups like the World Health Organization, Child Mind Institute, as well as numerous dictionaries, tween and teen are meaningful terms that include people from age 8 to 19 (roughly 3rd graders to college freshmen).
According to Annex A to the Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library’s Collection Development Policy the “responsibility for children’s use of materials rests solely with their parents or legal guardians.” While I agree in theory, I think some might see this as an unreasonable and privileged viewpoint that assumes all families have the ability to always accompany their children to the public library which is in walking distance from some of our schools. Many parents, myself included, would expect the designated spaces within the library for children, tweens, and teens to be a place where their young, developing family members could safely explore on their own without coming across sexually explicit and graphic images. I have never seen a person being questioned about their age at any library. Furthermore, many children within the tween category are volunteers at the library. My daughter was a volunteer at PGN Library when she was in 6th and 7th grade and I never accompanied her nor was I asked to by any staff.
In regard to the graphic images and the argument that these books are protected speech, I would suggest a review of the US Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) available at https://www.justice.gov/criminal-ceos/obscenity. Furthermore, a research report written by Judy Watson, Legislative Fellow with the Office of Legislative Research within the Connecticut General Assembly, summarizes obscenity laws in Connecticut as,“statutes set forth in CGS § 53a-193 through 210 which adopts the US Supreme Court’s definition of obscenity as defined in Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15(1973). The obscenity standard adopted from Miller is “judged by ordinary adults applying contemporary community standards” whereby the state of Connecticut is deemed to be the community. (CGS § 53a-193(1)).” She continues, “materials not ‘obscene’ toward adults may be ‘obscene’ as to minors (CGS § 53a-196).”
The Hartford Courant recently published an op-ed by Steven Jungkeit of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme which I would like to address at this time. It is a sad state when such misleading and schismatic statements made by a local pastor has become the norm in our small town.
In his op-ed, Jungkeit begins by quoting words that welcome students at Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School:
In case no one told you today:
You belong here
You’re doing great
I believe in you
He goes on to claim that the 135 signers of the letter challenging the two books (which I am not part of) are communicating to the entire Lyme-Old Lyme LGBTQ+ (but especially trans) community members that:
“You do NOT belong here.”
“You are NOT doing great.”
“We do NOT believe in you.”
While I wholeheartedly endorse the message at the middle school, I would also be comfortable including,
And I will actively seek to provide a safe and nurturing environment in which for you to thrive.
While the books in question do feature some LBTGQ+ individuals, that does not change the opinion of many adults that these images are inappropriate for any 8-year-old whether they be gay, straight, trans, etc. These opinions are also in line with the US Justice Department and are not simply the opinion of a “self-appointed group of citizens seeking to act in loco parentis” as Jungkeit suggests.
Junkeit further asserts that the book challenges are harmful to our community writing, “Such efforts are corrosive to civic communities, and they erode the fabric of democracy.” He refers to the group of concerned parents and their actions as “bullying” and “mean spirited, cruel, regressive, and hurtful.”
If this pastor could step outside of his pseudo-Christian community activism, he may find that his own words, be them in an op-ed or delivered from the pulpit during Sunday worship, are indeed corrosive to our small community.
In closing, I too stand with those who identify as LGBTQ+.
And in case no one told you today:
You belong here
You’re doing great
I believe in you
AND I will speak out to help provide a safe, inclusive, and nurturing environment for you to explore and thrive.
The books in question, especially Let’s Talk About It, do not need to be banned, burned, or censored. They should be available but not in a tween designated area where 8-year-olds will have unfettered access. If a child would like to request such sexually explicit and graphic materials, perhaps that request should be made by the child with their parent or legal guardian. Our town, schools, and library offer a wide variety of inclusive and supportive messages to all members of the Lyme-Old Lyme community. In this book challenge, no flags, messaging, books, or displays that are in support of the LGBTQ+ are being called into question. I urge all those involved in this discussion to take the time to review the books, laws, and statutes in their entirety before taking a stand in this matter. It is my belief that our community would find that we share much more common ground than people, like Steven Junkeit and those who are associating this challenge with our LGBTQ+ neighbors, would like for us to believe.
Old Lyme, CT