Prince George’s County Memorial Library System Targeted by Anti-LGBTQIA+ Vandalism

Two branch libraries at Prince George’s County Memorial Library System were targeted with anti-LGBTQIA+ graffiti during the Washington, DC area’s Capital Pride Week. At press time, Prince George’s County Police detectives had arrested and charged a man, who confessed to the vandalism and is currently facing two counts of malicious destruction of property and multiple hate crimes.

library entrance with GROOMER spray painted across doors in yellow paint, sandwich board to right that reads
Vandalism at entrance of Greenbelt Branch Library

Two branch libraries at Prince George’s County Memorial Library System (PGCMLS) were targeted with anti-LGBTQIA+ graffiti during the Washington, DC, area’s Capital Pride Week. The Greenbelt Branch Library was vandalized on the night of Saturday, June 4, and the New Carrollton Branch Library on the night of Thursday, June 9.

In both incidents, the word “Groomer” was spray-painted on exterior library walls—over the main entrance doors at the Greenbelt Branch, and near a loading dock at New Carrollton. As noted in the recent harassment incident during Drag Queen Story Hour at San Lorenzo Library, CA, “groomer” and other unfounded accusations that LGBTQIA+ people pose threats to children have become common rhetoric used by the anti-LGBTQIA+ right.

No one was physically hurt during either incident, which took place after library hours. Staff removed the graffiti immediately—the PGCMLS maintenance staff uses a highly efficient product called Elephant Snot Graffiti Remover—and an incident report was filed by the library and escalated to Prince George’s County Police. Security cameras captured both incidents, and that content was sent along to the police as well.

At press time, Prince George’s County Police detectives had arrested and charged a man, Charles Sutherland, a school librarian at Northview Elementary in Bowie, MD. Sutherland confessed to the vandalism and is currently facing two counts of malicious destruction of property and multiple hate crimes; he is currently on administrative leave.

 

PROCEEDING AS PLANNED

PGCMLS staff and administration were unsettled and concerned by the crimes, but they were not entirely caught off guard. “We prepare ourselves every Pride Month for something to come in. There’s usually a fair amount of trolling that happens on social media, and sometimes we get written correspondence,” Nicholas Brown, COO for Communication and Outreach, told LJ. “A certain amount comes from local folks, and there’s other stuff that comes from people out of the area, which is typical.”

“This is not our first rodeo,” added Rebecca Oxley, Librarian III at the Greenbelt Branch. Last year during Pride Month, she said, someone affixed homophobic bumper stickers on the building’s front and back entrance.

Brown noted that the library has received messages complaining about Drag Queen Story Time, an event PGCMLS has never held. But this month it has featured a full roster of Pride events, from art exhibits to book discussions to “STEM-tastic: Rainbow Science” programming. The first graffiti incident took place after the the Rainbow Family Festival, when library representatives had marched in the Annapolis Pride Parade. (PGCMLS isn’t the only institution seeing opposition this month. On June 9, during Pride Week, the board of education in Carroll County, MD, approved a policy banning the display of the rainbow Pride flag in school classrooms.)

Upcoming Pride events are scheduled to proceed as planned, and library security—a mix of security guards and contracted off-duty police officers—has been made aware of the incidents. Since the incident at her branch Oxley has continued to hold Rainbow Story Time, made sure the Pride picture book display is full, and presented a program for kids about Black queer excellence. “I would say that I’m undeterred,” she told LJ.

Still, she noted, it’s a hard time for the queer library community. “When things happen in library land, we feel it. When that happened at San Lorenzo, when there were protests at the Texas Library Association conference [which featured a keynote speech by drag queen Alyssa Edwards], we hear about that—it affects us.”

 

CARE FOR THE QUEER LIBRARY COMMUNITY

Oxley was targeted in March at the Public Library Association conference when she and colleague Teresa Miller presented a program, “Queering the Library: Strategically Creating Space for the LGBTQ+ Community.” While the session was well received by the library workers in attendance, an anti-LGBTQIA+ group infiltrated and filmed the presentation without permission, using the footage for trolling on social media.

As a leader of the library’s LGBTQ+ staff team, Oxley said, “I am doing my best to remain unbothered, especially during Pride Month, because this is supposed to be a month where we can be ourselves, exist, thrive, and vibe.” But, she added, “I will say that I am tired.”

There are many ways libraries can care for their LGBTQIA+ staff before events like this arise, Oxley pointed out. Make sure the library’s equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility policies are up-to-date and unambiguously presented on its website—“If that is the value that you hold as a library system, then that should be extremely clear to all.”

“One of the best things you can do is make cogent progressive LGBTQ+ training mandatory for your entire library staff, the same way that we make it mandatory when we talk about every other intersectional community,” noted Oxley. While she acknowledged that not every library may have the budget, there are national organizations available to help. Small things count as well—encouraging, but not requiring, staff to include pronouns in their email signatures, or simply having a welcoming policy about workers wearing rainbow pins.

Staff should be prepared with “elevator responses” to questions or challenges about materials or programs. “As a supervisor,” said Oxley, “I make sure that my staff is prepared to say, ‘the library supports and uplifts everyone in our community,’ and includes LGBTQ people.” And because words often need backup, have solid contingency emergency plans in place.

And, both Oxley and Brown agreed, administrators and colleagues need to commit to supporting LGBTQIA+ Black, Indigenous, and people of color—who are disproportionately at risk for prejudice and violence—both in and outside of their libraries.

“We should remember that libraries are not neutral spaces,” Oxley emphasized. “They’re places of access and they are safe havens, they’re one of the last free bastions in our society, and we cannot be neutral about that.”

Brown feels fortunate, he said, that PGCMLS leadership, board, and county support the values of inclusion and creating welcoming spaces. “We know that there’s reason for concern about these types of issues, and we’re maintaining our awareness and security protocols. But we know that we are very effectively showing the community that we are a place for all to be represented and to be safe.”

“To the queerbrarians out there,” Oxley added, “know that you are seen, that you’re not alone. There are many of us out there, many of us on the frontlines doing work, even risky work, to uplift this community.”

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Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is Senior News Editor for Library Journal.

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