Glen Ride, NJ – A standing-room only crowd of hundreds of people who packed the 800-seat capacity Ridgewood Avenue School auditorium in Glen Ridge Wednesday night celebrated Glen Ridge Public Library Board of Trustees’ unanimous decision to keep six challenged books on library shelves. The Board’s decision followed two hours of public comment from the community. The challenge came from eight residents in five households, under the letterhead of the organization Citizens Defending Education (CDE).
Glen Ridge Public Library Board of Trustees had received 240 letters from community members and groups about the book ban attempt. More than 40 community members, leaders, librarians, educators, students, parents, elected officials, medical professionals and LGBTQIA+ advocates spoke out before the Board, with an additional 39 community members signed up to speak before the Board closed comments and began deliberations.
The six books that were challenged: All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johson (YA BIO JOHNSON); Here and Queer by Rowan Ellis and Jacky Sheridan (YA SOCIAL QUEER ELLIS); It’s Not the Stork by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley (J PARENT 649); It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley (YA HEALTH PUBERTY HARRIS); This Book is Gay by James Dawson (YA SOCIAL QUEER DAWSON); and You Know, Sex by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth (YA HEALTH PUBERTY SILVERBERG).
The Board unanimously voted to affirm the Director’s decision that each of the books meet the selection criteria in the Library’s Material Selection Policy. Additionally, the Board unanimously voted that each of the books will be maintained in the library’s collection.
The eight people who challenged the books did not publicly defend their position and no one from the CDE group seeking to have the books banned spoke at the meeting.
“The board voted unanimously to keep the 6 books in our library! To our extraordinary library, and all who work there, the board – we are grateful for all of you. We couldn’t be prouder of our town, this beautiful, sweet town.” — Glen Ridge United said in a statement after the vote.
Glen Ridge resident Phil Johnson organized Glen Ridge United Against Book Bans, a dedicated group of parents, residents, clergy, and educators who fought the ban and brought awareness to the issue with a community response that included a petition signed by more than 2,900 Glen Ridge residents, as well as 300 yard signs displayed around the Borough and a rally that took place before the vote. Many of those who came out against the challenge Wednesday wore one of 300+ t-shirts designed by a local Glen Ridge artist, featuring the town’s signature lamps with a flame in Progress Pride colors, and created as part of Glen Ridge United’s efforts.
Glen Ridge United also announced it has created a fundraiser for the Friends of Glen Ridge Library.
Kaye Johnson, Stephanie Elder and Sarah Elder, mother and aunts of Plainfield, NJ, native George M. Johnson, author of one of the challenged books, “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” read a statement from the author:
“Our books are not introducing teens to hard topics. They are simply the resource needed so that they can understand the hard topics that they are living out day to day. As a Black queer person. I know what it’s like to read books that don’t tell my story. You have every right to not allow YOUR child to read it. But you don’t get to trample on the rights of parents like my mother and my aunts who have raised LGBTQ teens who needed books like these.”
“We, as Out Montclair, as an LGBTQIA+ community, categorically reject book bans and efforts to restrict access to books and remove them from library shelves,” said Out Montlair Board of Trustees co-chair Jodie Dawson. “Every reader deserves to see themselves in books and have their stories and families represented in libraries. Reading helps us understand ourselves, each other and our world.”
“Where you stand tonight matters,” said Laura Hoge, clinical director of Spectrum Health in Montclair. “You can either normalize the existence of LGBTQ individuals, or you can become part of the very stigma that threatens the lives of some of the most vulnerable and valuable children in your community.”
“Save your LGBTQ+ youth from years of anguish, depression, and self-hatred,” Jane Clementi, mother of Tyler Clementi, who tragically took his life 12 years ago in New Jersey after a threat of being outed as a college freshman. “Set a good example to their classmates and peers. Your actions as leaders within your town will impact everyone in your town, not only those members of the LGBTQ+ community, but your straight youth as well. Your straight youth are looking at you to see if their queer peers should be harassed, intimidated, or bullied; or if they are worthy of a place in your community.”
“The Board’s vote reflects the overwhelming support shown tonight for books, the freedom to read and love for every LGBTQIA+ person, youth and family,” said Peter Yacobellis, Out Montclair Executive Director. “This is a victory for the entire community and the coalition that Glen Ridge United organized from the ground up that Out Montclair was proud to join and support.”
Bloomfield and Montclair both read proclamations supporting Glen Ridge United Against Book Bans at meetings this month. Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo also issued a statement of support as did Essex County Commissioner Brendan Gill.
The American Library Association documented the targeting of 1,651 titles from January to September 2022, the most attempted book bans since ALA began keeping records more than 20 years ago. ALA also noted threats against library workers, with “violence, threats of violence and other acts of intimidation” largely targeting books by or about “gay, queer, transgender, Black, Indigenous, persons of color, those with disabilities and religious minorities.”