Hard Victory for Equity | Censorship

Two and a half years ago, I was fired by the High Plains Library District (HPLD) in Weld County, CO, after I objected to cancelling programs for LGBTQIA+ teens and youth of color because they were “polarizing.”

Two and a half years ago, I was fired by the High Plains Library District (HPLD) in Weld County, CO, after I objected to cancelling programs for LGBTQIA+ teens and youth of color because they were “polarizing.”

The program policy that the HPLD Board of Trustees passed in November 2021 states that “the district does not present programs that are intentionally inflammatory or polarizing.” However, the only programs ever considered in violation of that policy were those for LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC teens. This concerned me because the HPLD board and leadership have, on numerous occasions, demonstrated an inability to keep their own beliefs and ideas separate from decisions about library operations. In 2020, for example, the board did not want to release a public statement in support of our Black community and denouncing violence when George Floyd was murdered. In fact, the board chair (the former chief of a local police department) stated that “the library is not about social change” and characterized the release of a statement about racial equity as “virtue signaling.”

It wasn’t difficult to see that the purpose of the new program policy language was to cancel programs and services that didn’t align with the board’s and leadership’s views. I had two teens of my own and had formed relationships with many teens in the library. I was very aware that LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC teens don’t always receive the support they need at home or school, and that seeing themselves represented in library services makes them feel valued and included. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I remained silent about the cancellation of library programs—I would have felt complicit in erasing their perspectives and identities. I had no other choice but to speak up. When I voiced my concerns about censorship to library leadership, they were not acknowledged. When I spoke out to the community about what was happening, I received a written warning. When the cancellation of my programs was discussed at board meetings, the chair stated that he “doesn’t believe that the district should get involved in controversy.” One staff member spoke up and tried to explain that employees’ concerns about the policy were precisely about that definition of controversy—who gets to decide what’s “controversial”?

I was fired within four weeks of speaking out. It was devastating. I lost my dream job, but at the same time I felt relieved to no longer work for an organization that does not demonstrate respect for inclusivity and support for all members of its community. I knew I had done the right thing.

In taking legal action against HPLD, my goal was never just about seeking compensation for the mental, emotional, and financial harm done to me—I wanted to hold HPLD accountable. My priority was to revise the program policy so it couldn’t be used subjectively to cancel programs and services that didn’t align with the board’s and library leadership’s personal beliefs. When the Colorado Civil Rights Commission released its determination that there was probable cause for discrimination, and the Attorney General’s Office stepped in and filed a complaint against HPLD on my behalf, I finally felt validated and heard. It was a huge win to have government agencies on my side, fighting for me, and acknowledging that the library discriminated and retaliated against me.

As part of the settlement agreement, I made sure HPLD agreed to revise their program policy language and get it approved by the Public Library Association. I also wanted to give HPLD staff a safe way to speak up and voice their concerns about any program cancellations going forward. HPLD had to form a Program Review Committee that would review any denied programs, and as part of that process, survey and consider anonymous feedback from library staff on the program’s value to the community. Incorporating these requirements into the settlement, which effected change in policy and practice and will promote more diverse and inclusive services, is what I am most proud of. I want the outcome of my lawsuit not only to be a reminder to libraries that their purpose is to serve all members of their community, but also a warning that there are consequences for discrimination and retaliation.

Winning my lawsuit is not the end of my journey. I continue to speak out against censorship because I want to educate others, support library workers in similar situations, and encourage libraries to do better. I feel obligated to use my experience to keep a spotlight on the issue. I will continue to participate in webinars and podcasts, present at conferences, testify for Senate bills, and speak at events or with media to make sure what happened to me and my community doesn’t happen again. I will continue using HPLD as an example of how not to operate. I hope someday the HPLD board and leadership educate themselves about the true purpose of libraries and genuinely learn from their mistakes. Their community deserves it—all of our communities do.

Brooky Parks is an Anti-Censorship Advocate and Librarian at the University of Denver. She was awarded the 2023 Julie J. Boucher Memorial Award for promoting intellectual freedom and fighting back against censorship and is passionate about serving all members of her community.



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