Statement to The Seattle Public Library Board (Expanded)

Content Warning: Transphobia, racism, violence against transgender and non-binary people, workplace violence

The following is an expanded version of my public statement to the Seattle Public Library Board on December 19, 2019. Versions of this statement are being sent to other library administration and City government officials.

At the time of this post, The Seattle Public Library has not cancelled the room reservation for the anti-trans event on February 1st, 2020.

Hello and thank you for the opportunity to address the board.

My name is Becky Yoose. I worked at SPL from 2015 to 2019 as the Library Applications and Systems Manager. I have worked in libraries for almost 18 years, with over ten of those years as a professional librarian.

You heard many people arguing for and against SPL renting a meeting room to WoLF, a self-described “feminist” organization, on February 1st, 2020. You might have heard arguments invoking intellectual freedom, free speech, and civil discourse.

Let’s start with intellectual freedom. Intellectual freedom was codified into the library profession by the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights in 1939 as a response to events taking place in Europe on the eve of WWII. Comments surrounding IF focus almost exclusively on the materials themselves, but a closer examination of intellectual freedom reveals that intellectual freedom is much more than materials – it’s also about protecting the person accessing the materials from the consequences as a result of that access. Stating that intellectual freedom requires libraries to include any and all material is a dangerous oversimplification of the concept of intellectual freedom. It de-centers the patron aspect of intellectual freedom and makes it an afterthought. In any case, there’s a difference between providing access to a variety of materials without surveilling library patrons and providing a platform for hate speech that endangers the lives of others.

That leads us to free speech. WoLF supporters state that the First Amendment protects the group. While there is no exception for hate speech in the First Amendment, Washington State and the City of Seattle consider speech as a factor in hate and bias crimes, as well as allow for civil actions against those who perpetrate such speech. The City of Seattle also has policies regarding protecting persons from discrimination and harassment in places of public accommodation.

WoLF’s and Murphy’s talks around gender and sex dehumanizes transgender and non-binary people by insisting that they do not exist and that they do not deserve the same human rights as others, like walking down the street or using public bathroom facilities without the threat of violence. Their speech isn’t about discourse or debate around gender identity, it is about intentionally stripping people of their basic rights to exist as human beings. These events are productions to create a coalition of people tasked with actively working against giving human rights to transgender and non-binary people.  Removing the humanity of a class of people is a tried and true strategy of many hate groups, as well as governments and others who hold power, to incite violence against those in that class.

Dehumanizing transgender people has led to increased rates of violence and death compared to the general US population. In 2018, the FBI saw a 40 percent rise in hate crimes committed against transgender and non-binary folks nationwide compared to 2017. Seattle saw a 25% increase in overall hate crimes between 2017 and 2018. This violence disproportionately affects Black transgender women, who already experience dehumanization because of their race.

This accumulates into the last argument that the library is a neutral place for civil discourse. Libraries are not, and never were, neutral. Libraries were used as places to educate “uncivilized” immigrants in the ways of the dominate culture. Libraries are places where racial, ethnic, and other types of slurs are used to describe materials in the library collection. Libraries are where Black, Latinx, and other people of color are disproportionately excluded from the library compared to white people – a recent example of this is the 2018 report by the South Seattle Emerald about SPL’s exclusion practices. Libraries are where transgender people are forced to use a name for their library card that outs them. As with any other cultural institution, the library inherits the biases and systematic oppressions of the greater society.

Claims of neutrality and civility have been used to dehumanize classes of people as well. The writers of the Constitution had a civil conversation that resulted in the Three-Fifths Compromise. Many of the atrocities committed in the name of eugenics were masked by civility of those carrying out said atrocities. The notions of neutrality and civility excuses oneself from the personal and organizational responsibility of invoking harm to those who are at most at risk. It is an immoral stance to take, at best.

I am concerned not only for library patrons, but for library staff as well. 2019 has seen an increase in violence against SPL staff compared to 2018. Staff have been verbally harassed, physically assaulted, and in certain cases doxed and threatened for LGBTQIA+ work that they do at the library. As mentioned earlier, speech that dehumanizes transgender and non-binary people leads to violence against these people. How can SPL ensure a safe working environment for their transgender and non-binary staff if they allow for this type of speech at their place of work? The answer is that they can’t.

The speakers at the WoLF forum are not engaging in discourse or dialog. They are engaging in stripping away the human rights of transgender and non-binary people, including library patrons and staff. This puts both library patrons and staff in danger of harm.

The City has policies in place to protect workers against hostile work environments as well as initiatives to create an equitable workplace for all. The City also has policies protecting the public from harassment based on gender. I ask you to follow these policies and cancel the February 1st room reservation for the WoLF event.

Thank you for your time.


State and City of Seattle policies

Further Readings and sources