An Oklahoma library’s canceled romantic book club draws attention to growing censorship

Literary circles were in turmoil after the Enid Public Library in Enid, Oklahoma, canceled a romantic book club and sexual assault education evening in response to the city library’s narrow vote to ban displays and programs featuring content about sexuality.

However, the Enid Public Library and the Garfield County Board of Directors initially said the book club and display of books on sexual assault could continue. According to interim director Theri Ray of Enid Public Library, librarians and city officials later removed the projects “in accordance with adopted policy.”

“The library director is charged with implementing the policy as it is written,” Ray told CNN.

While librarians have not publicly specified any motivations, literary proponents have: took their actions as comments about how broadly such a ban can be interpreted, despite the fact that it started with specifically LGBTQ content in mind.
At first glance, the policy, written by CEO Joseph Fletcher, is very general. It states that library programs and exhibits must be “unbiased” and “not the study of sex, sexual activity, sexual perversion, sex-based classifications, sexual preferences, sexual identity, gender identity, or topics of a sexual nature.”
However, Cindy Nguyen, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, pointed out that the verbiage was specifically taken from a bill currently suspended in the state legislature. SB 1142 proposes banning sexuality material in classrooms — a concept critics say is similar to the controversial law, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics, that has made headlines in Florida.

Nguyen and her team have been following events in Enid closely.

“We know it’s pretty clearly linked,” she told CNN.

The tires don’t stop there. Last summer, a Pride Month-themed exhibit at the Enid Public Library drew outrage from several citizens and was discussed extensively at a library board meeting in July 2021.

“We don’t need to be divisive in a public building,” said an Enid resident, according to Enid News & Eagle. Fletcher, who eventually drafted the proposal that became the ban, reportedly said the problem was the promotion of certain topics, not access to them. (The new library policy does not require material to be removed from the library catalog.)
At the April 11 board meeting attended by Nguyen and Ray, attendees debated what exactly “sexuality” or “sex-based classifications” meant.
“If we continue with this vote, there will never be screenings,” said a board member.

Ray said during the meeting: she would have to decide whether to include Mother’s Day and Father’s Day views, for example, since the terms are technically gender-based and gender-based classifications.

What’s going on in this city of about 50,000 may not be around for long, Nguyen warned.

“We expect this policy to crop up in legislatures across the country,” she said. “Anything that can be associated with critical race theory or LGBTQ issues, there will be an attempt at hair-raising speech.” (“horrifying speech” is a term describing attempts to discourage the expression of the First Amendment through vague laws or policies.)
According to a report by the literary and free expression organization PEN America, conservative lawmakers have issued about 1,600 book bans in school districts in 26 states since July 2021. That includes 713 bans in Texas, where students and educators are currently pushing back on an investigation launched by GOP State Rep. Matt Krause in hundreds of books largely related to race and sexuality.

Nguyen said the generality of policies like the one in Enid makes them particularly dangerous because they can be enforced as broadly or as specifically as local leaders see fit. To avoid breaking the rules, libraries may need to decide how broadly concepts like sexuality or race can be interpreted — and which parts of those identities are most likely to be punished.

Leave a Comment