Op-ed: Lies of omission are still lies

MOVCAC – Motivate – Organize – Volunteer – Citizens Action Coalition
Sean Keefe

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following guest column contains a description of content in a graphic memoir, which some readers may find offensive.)

Before we begin, please picture a girl standing with a strap-on phallic device. In front of that girl, on their knees, is a shirtless human with the phallic device inserted in their mouth. I use the word human and the pronoun “their” because the gender of the human in the illustration is ambiguous. If you believe that an illustration of a sex act that includes insertion is appropriate for children of all ages, there is no need to continue reading.

In September, a local resident making copies at the library noticed the Banned Books display located about 15 feet from the front door as she entered. There were several books that caused her to stop at the display. The library patron checked out “Gender Queer.” Upon perusing the material, she was aghast to find illustrations depicting oral sex and masturbation. As Library Director Brian Raitz explained in his Op-Ed from Oct. 15, a group of concerned mothers, fathers, grandfathers and other members of society attended the Sept. 28, 2022, library board meeting as a result.

Mr. Raitz’s description of the beginning of the meeting is accurate. We discussed the processes that were in place at the library to restrict obvious adult material from the curious eyes of minors. Mr. Raitz informed us, and reiterated this position publicly at this past Tuesday’s City Council meeting, that once a child has a library card, they have access to any book they wish — not only to read while in the library, but also to check out and take with them.

What the taxpayer-funded library director failed to explain is that the illustrations described above were shown to both him and the board members. They were asked if this material was appropriate for children. All said it was not except for Board President John Jackson. Whether they were unaware of state law or purposefully ignoring it, I cannot say.

West Virginia code section 61-8A-1 — Definitions:

(n) “Sexually explicit conduct” means an ultimate sexual act, normal or perverted, actual or simulated, including sexual intercourse, sodomy, oral copulation, sexual bestiality, sexual sadism and masochism, masturbation, excretory functions and lewd exhibition of the genitals.

Section 61-8A-2 — Penalties:

(a) Any adult, with knowledge of the character of the matter, who knowingly and intentionally distributes, offers to distribute, or displays to a minor any obscene matter, is guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $25,000, or confined in a state correctional facility for not more than five years, or both.

Section 61-8A-3 — Exemptions:

(a) A bona fide school, in the presentation of local or state approved curriculum;

(b) A public library, or museum, which is displaying or distributing any obscene matter to a minor only when the minor is accompanied by an adult.

In our meeting with Mr. Raitz and the board, and subsequent one-on-one meetings, the words ban, burn, censor, or remove were never used. Our concern was with the material being available to minors. In our naivete, we thought that this must be a mistake or that perhaps the administration was unaware of the obscene material. We thought that by bringing this to the board’s attention, they would correct this oversight. To the contrary, they understood the nature of the material and approved of its availability to all library patrons regardless of age.

Mr. Raitz failed to mention our intentions at all when he wrote his op-ed and when he solicited support from library patrons in an email dated Oct. 28, 2022.

At the library board meeting on Oct. 26, 2022, many supporters of the book spoke and described our efforts as book-burning, book-banning, ignorant, religious extremism, and akin to 1930s Nazi Germany. Mr. Raitz and Board President John Jackson sat idly by allowing these speakers to completely misrepresent our position.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the word Nazi was used eight times. Mr. Raitz himself used the Bible as a comparison to “Gender Queer” as he defended this material’s availability to all patrons regardless of age. This argument completely ignores the differences between adult and young readers. The book in question is written as a graphic novel (like a comic book) and is of much more interest to young readers than a book of thousands of pages of text. Many of the speakers lamented the fact that we did not submit a challenge to the book. We were never challenging the book. All literature should be available to adults. We were challenging the library’s policies, procedures, and adherence to state law regarding obscene or pornographic material.

This lie of omission by the library’s administration has caused undue tension in the community.

Fifteen of the public speakers allowed at Tuesday’s City Council meeting were in support of the library’s position (including two current political candidates), while five were against. The room became raucous when the second set of ten speakers were all supporters of the policy. Many who opposed, were left silent when acting council president Mike Reynolds closed the public forum due to loud protests of the one-sided discussion.

Yes. We object to the over sexualization of our children. I guess that makes one a Nazi nowadays.

Had Mr. Raitz or Mr. Jackson clarified to misinformed library supporters that those raising concerns were only looking for the same safeguards for minors that are applied to private businesses that transact in adult activities (theaters, bookstores, alcohol sales), or had our local media confirmed the facts written by Mr. Raitz this whole controversy may have been avoided.

Finally, the op-eds by Eric Engle and Terry L. Estep, published on Oct. 30, 2022, are both products of this lie of omission.

The City Council, County Commission, and Board of Education all fund the library. Since City Council allowed Mr. Raitz to continue his misinformation campaign by being the first speaker and by allowing the vast majority of speakers to be from the pro-exploitation of children side of the debate on Tuesday, one can only assume that they approve of his use of the authority they vest in his position to intentionally divide our community. I hope the other two institutions funding this administration are less willing to stand by and allow their funding and authority to be used in such a duplicitous manner.