(NEW YORK)— The removal of all LGBTQ+ books for children from the public library in St. Marys, Kansas is “blatantly discriminatory” and deprives readers there of a wide range of literature, PEN America said today.

The decision followed months of negotiations with the city commission and the library was ultimately able to maintain its lease after the library director accepted demands from city commissioners with “religious-based objections to LGBTQ books.” A six-person committee searched the library catalog for terms including  “gay,” “transgender,” “lesbian,” “bisexual” and “queer” in order to screen content. All books removed from library shelves will be sent to other county branches.

Kasey Meehan, Freedom to Read program director at PEN America, said it was “deeply disturbing for the city government to hold the library’s lease hostage in order to purge its shelves of LGBTQ+ books.”

“This blatantly discriminatory action has deprived the residents of St. Marys of ready access to a wide range of literature, and it forced the library director into an impossible position,” said Meehan. “Libraries are for everyone, and evicting children’s books for including LGBTQ+ themes threatens not only the freedom to read for all patrons, but the democratic values that we all enjoy.”

The demands from the city commission date back to 2022, when an uproar over Alex Gino’s Melissa–a book about a transgender child–prompted a city official to add a “morals clause” to the library’s lease, which would have banned “explicit sexual or racially or socially divisive material” from library shelves. Following public outcry, the parent who raised the initial complaint against Melissa paid for the book to be removed from shelves, and the library’s lease was renewed for one year in December 2022 without the morals clause.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Pen.org

CONTACT: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057