Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee’s attempt to censor the content of the city’s public library of what he calls “sexual content” is set for a resolution tonight. Protesters from an organization that believes that LGBTQ+ people practice “sexual perversion” plan to crowd the meeting and speaker list in support of the mayor’s book-banning plan.
The issue is formally scheduled for a 6 p.m. hearing before the Board of Aldermen at City Hall, right across from the library. The board has listed “Consider (the) Library Services Contract” on the docket, and library-system officials have informed the Mississippi Free Press that they will attend tonight’s meeting.
MassResistance, a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated anti-LGBTQ+ hate group with chapters across the U.S., is also scheduled to be in attendance and is seeking a large crowd in support of the mayor’s attempts to defund the library. The Mississippi Free Press obtained an email in which Arthur Schaper, a conservative California freelance writer and organization director for MassResistance, called for “support for the Mayor and the Aldermen against the abusive LGBT material which the Madison County libraries have permitted.”
The email encourages supporters to sign up for public comment against the library’s LGBTQ+ collection by calling City Clerk Paula Tierce.
“We are urging as many people as possible to attend the Ridgeland City Council meeting,” Schaper’s email reads. “Your presence at the city council meeting is essential. The local as well as national press need to know that the residents are standing with the mayor and the aldermen against the encroaching sexual perversion which has become all too pervasive in public libraries over the last five years.”
As of press time, the number of expected attendees to tonight’s meeting is unknown. Additionally, at present, no aldermen have gone on record in favor of banning LGBTQ+ books, and the most recent meeting agenda did not include speakers from MassResistance.
‘We’re Holding The Money Right Now’
Previously, the mayor ordered a hold on a regularly scheduled payment to the Madison County Library System, the City of Ridgeland’s quarterly contribution to the maintenance of the public libraries across the county. Yearly, the City contributes $110,000 to the system’s operating budget, with the Board of Aldermen approving the 2022 payments to the libraries in the most recent budget.
At the beginning of the year, after failing to receive payment from Ridgeland, Madison County Library System Director Tonja Johnson reached out for an explanation of the delay. In that phone call, as Johnson told the Mississippi Free Press shortly thereafter, Mayor McGee explained that he had personally ordered a hold on the payments. Then, Johnson alleged, the mayor launched into a demand that “homosexual materials” be removed from the library in order for the funding to be released.
The library board met on Jan. 25 to formally reject any attempts to censor the content of the library system, pushing a legal response to the mayor’s decision until after the upcoming decision on the part of the city’s aldermen.
In a series of interviews following the library board’s action, McGee gave contradictory answers about his conversation with Johnson, first telling the Mississippi Free Press that he was responding to complaints over “sexual” content. “We’re holding (the money) right now because we found a large number of citizens who have complained about displays of sexual, whatever you want to call it, content,” McGee said. “We’re just responding to those citizens’ complaints.”
Later, McGee told the Madison County Journal that it was the “political nature” of the LGBTQ+ books in a display at the Ridgeland Library that drew his concern. “We understand that there are lots of books on the library shelves that may have content we may be opposed to, but the display of those books makes a political statement,” McGee said.
Whatever the genesis of McGee’s actions, the mayor justified them with the date of the library contract. “The last contract that was signed with the Madison County Library System was signed in 2009. There’s never been a new contract going forward,” McGee told the Mississippi Free Press.
Contracts signed in previous administrations may be voided after each election, though the Mississippi Free Press is aware of no attempts to renegotiate the contract prior to the mayor’s book demands.
Anti-Censorship Furries Help Raise $100,000+ For Library
The response to the Mississippi Free Press’ initial report was swift and wide-ranging. Collectively, supporters of the Madison County Library System’s refusal raised more than $110,000 dollars on a crowdfunding website to cover the entire year’s contract in dispute. An engaged campaign on the part of furries—enthusiastic fans of anthropomorphized animals frequently associated with the online LGBTQ+ community—as well as several authors of books in McGee’s crosshairs helped the campaign along. Mississippi author Angie Thomas, an MFP advisory board member whose books appear on banned lists across the U.S., also pushed the funding campaign in her social networks.
C.J. Winship, a gay law student, former police officer and resident of Ridgeland, wrote a column for the Mississippi Free Press acknowledging that the Ridgeland Library’s inclusive collection were “the only friends to whom I could tell my secrets. They were certainly the only ones who talked back to me and told me it would be OK—that I would be OK.”
Friends of the Ridgeland Library Treasurer Jane Bond told the Mississippi Free Press in an interview today that the response “has been exceptional.”
“It’s come from all over the country,” she said. “We’ve more than met our goals.”
Bond explained that there would be no barriers to transferring the money directly to the Madison County Library System, and that the funds would be arriving in two payments after Feb. 21, at which point she would deliver the checks to library staff personally.
Additionally, the Mississippi ACLU joined in the reaction, issuing a letter to Mayor Gene McGee demanding that the mayor abandon any attempts to censor the content of the Ridgeland Public Library.
“As Mayor of Ridgeland, you failed to send City of Ridgeland’s first quarterly payment for the Ridgeland Public Library and later informed Tonja Johnson that you would not direct payment to be made until Ridgeland Public Library purges its collection of ‘homosexual materials.’ … You have no authority to undertake such measures, and your actions are unconstitutional,” the letter reads in part.