Second Statement to The Seattle Public Library Board

Content Warning: Transphobia

The following is a written version of my second public statement to the Seattle Public Library Board on January 23, 2020.

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. A protest is planned at the library from 6 pm to 9 pm on the same day.

Thank you again for the opportunity to address the Board.

I was at the special meeting on January 10th where the Board met with attorneys and subsequently failed to second a motion to cancel the February 1st event hosted by a self-proclaimed “feminist” group who will not be engaging in gender discourse at the event but instead engaging in the erasure of human rights of transgender people. In the statement read by the Board right after after the failed motion, the Board declared that they supported both the transgender community and intellectual freedom.

In the statement the Board noted that the Library needs to “[listen] to and [work] with the transgender community”. However, you did not listen to the transgender community when they brought up concerns about the library providing a platform for hate speech that erases their existence and their human rights. You did not listen to the community organizers who reached out to you with offers of assistance in protecting transgender patrons and staff from the effects of this speech. You did not listen to the lawyers and others in the community who pointed out that the existing library policies and the upcoming event itself violates state and local regulations. Why should we believe that you’ll listen when your actions say otherwise?

The Board states that the Library must “maintain its role as a stalwart protector of intellectual freedom”. The Board conflates the principle of Intellectual Freedom with the principle of free speech – libraries already place limits on content and speech by their very nature. The Board seems content with this conflation. That became very apparent after the executive session in the special meeting. The Board President stated before the session that no decision would be made in the closed session, but given that there was a full statement right after the 45 minute closed session most likely meant that the decision was already made before the meeting started.

Libraries are not sacred spaces, as the Board declares in their statement. Libraries are not neutral and they often contribute to systems of oppression in communities. At the same time, though, libraries also provide the opportunity of a place of refuge for those seeking a brief respite from that oppression. The New York Public Library realized this when, last week, they cancelled a transphobic event featuring speakers from the same group coming to SPL. I only wish SPL realized this as well. The Board’s actions have reinforced systems of oppression by giving a platform for hate speech that harms transgender patrons and staff. No amount of words of support to the transgender community from the library or statements about how the library strives to be a good community member will fix that.