What started out as a seemingly innocent reading for kids on June 9 at the Coronado Public Library has snowballed into a community-wide culture war with both sides maintaining they are pushing for “progress.”
A key critic of that event and her supporters want the library to adopt two major policy changes regarding children’s books, while 134 community members including Coronado School Board Trustee Whitney Antrim told city officials in a Sept. 19 open letter that no such changes are necessary.
The debate in Coronado is a microcosm of what’s being played out around the country regarding parental rights and censorship of certain books in libraries as well as public schools. The American Library Association (ALA) found that the requests to ban books broke a record in 2022.
Controversy over “The Rainbow Parade”
What started the local controversy was a book called “The Rainbow Parade,” which is about a young girl who accompanies her moms to her very first Pride parade.
On the third page of the book is a blocked off street, with dozens of people meandering the sidewalk getting ready for the parade.
Near the middle of the book is a couple holding hands. They both wear black, one with a harness-type top, the other wearing what looks like suspenders crossed in the front of their chest and a choker-style necklace.
On the other side of the page is the backside of a woman, her naked plump bottom walking along the blocked off the street.
Jessica Tompane, a resident of Coronado and a mother of three young children, had attended that day’s story time and noticed these characters in the cartoon.
She said she immediately reached out to the library in which a back and forth of emails occurred over the next several days over her unease of the content that was read during story time.
Tompane says “The Rainbow Parade” had a clear illustration of two men wearing BDSM, a term used to describe sex that involves dominance, submission and control. And, she adds, there was another illustration of a nude woman from her behind.
Those books should be considered inappropriate…-Jessica Tompane, Coronado resident and mother of three children.
“Those books should be considered inappropriate to be just in an unlabeled open shelving (area), at a children’s height,” Tompane said.
Tompane: Books have pornography
By those books, she means children’s books at the library that contain what she calls pornographic illustrations, images of adult genitalia and sexual fetishes, among other examples of inappropriate images that she and a group of concerned parents and residents of Coronado have criticized.
She and others, including the Rev. Mike Yeager of Awaken Church, addressed the City Council about their concerns on July 18. Those in support of the Pride book also attended that meeting and told the council that Tompane and others were pushing for censorship. Ultimately, the library adjusted its practices for story time.
Tompane said she does not attend Awaken, an evangelical church that has taken numerous political stances and has faced opposition to launching in Coronado.
Carl Luna, president of the Friends of the Coronado Public Library, said that even though this issue is now about the age appropriateness of books in the children’s section, to his understanding, the controversy started out as an issue related to the overall topic of the library celebrating Pride Month.
They’ve narrowed it down to a more basic agenda. First, to try to get certain books banned from storytime.”-Carl Luna, president of the Friends of the Coronado Public Library.
“The initial nature of the protest wasn’t just questioning the books, it was questioning the propriety of doing a Pride Month activity at all,” Luna explained. “They’ve narrowed it down to a more basic agenda. First, to try to get certain books banned from storytime.”
Luna was among the 134 people who signed a Sept. 19 letter to Mayor Richard Bailey and other city officials.
‘Colossal moral and legal problem’
“It is axiomatic in a democracy that no one group has the right to impose its view on the entire community. There is nothing wrong with a parent deciding a certain book or program is not right for their child, but there is a colossal moral and legal problem with a parent deciding that no other child or parent should be allowed access to that book,” part of the letter stated.
Luna has been a Coronado resident for 34 years, and one of his daughter’s works as the adult services librarian at the library.
He said this is the first time that he’s heard any rumblings about the library having inappropriate books, adding he had never encountered these kinds of requests and demands in the past.
“When they talk about pornographic material in the library – by any legal or even reasonable definition, there is nothing anywhere near pornographic in the children’s library – what they are explicitly referring to is anything that has what they call gender representation, which they claim sexualizes children,” Luna said.
Seeking two major policy changes
Since the June 9 story time, Tompane and her supporters have asked for two major policy changes at the library:
The first is if any topic addresses sexuality, sexual preference, sexual orientation, sexual fetishes, sexual pleasure, and/or how these things relate to gender in any fashion, it is considered inappropriate to be read during all children library section’s story times.
The other would deem a book inappropriate specifically for the children’s library section (ages up to 12) if it had images or illustrations of adult nudity, pornographic material, images of genitalia, sexual acts, masturbation, and implications of sexual pleasure/fetishes.
She said potential solutions are to move these books to the teen section, create a “PG-13” section in a higher shelving location within the children’s section that would require parental/caretaker’s consent, or create a Sexuality/Sex Ed section in a higher shelving location within the children’s section that would require parental/caretaker’s consent.
For example, these policy changes would put books like “The Rainbow Parade” higher up on the shelves and out of the reach of young children or have them labeled “sexuality” or “sex-ed.”
The city has not adopted the new policy requests.
Opponents say restrictions problematic
But those who sent the letter to city officials say “restricting such materials as demanded by this group is problematic under California law as it is an infringement upon protected rights of members of the community.”
And the letter states if the city gives in to the requests then LGTBQIA+ materials would be restricted or eliminated and “there is no reason to believe this group would not quickly make additional demands to further restrict/eliminate library materials they deem offensive.”
Tompane said she also has found other books in the children’s section that she and other parents have deemed inappropriate.
One book on sex education was at children’s eye level that had “graphic images on reproduction and how babies are made. It showed full blown adult genitalia and penetration,” Tompane said.
She said sex-ed books are good and helpful, but that the content in them could be unsuitable for certain age groups and thus should be recategorized.
Tompane: Unfair criticism of her
Tompane said opponents have criticized her as having an anti-LGBTQIA+ agenda, but she said “this is not an LGBT thing…That [sex-ed] book had no correlation to the LGBT community. It was just merely the contents that were too sensitive just to be able to be fully accessed by a child.”
There was a book, “Rainbow: A First Book of Pride,” that Tompane had found that did have an inclusive storyline that she used as an example of an age appropriate children’s book regarding the LGBTQIA+ community.
In no way are we calling for any removal of these books whatsoever.”-Jessica Tompane.
She said “Rainbow” is “100% about celebrating the LGBT community,” and it was age appropriate.
“The library should represent the LGBT community…in no way are we calling for any removal of these books whatsoever,” Tompane said.
Tompane said the proposed policy changes are “incredibly reasonable and it is for the best interests of children so that they’re not overly sexualized at a young age.”
Tompane said that any sort of sexuality, not just that pertaining to LGBTQIA+ individuals, is inappropriate and should not be read at story time to children.
Questions over story time
“Whatever you tell [children], cognitively, that’s a very powerful position. Anything addressing sexuality at all to 0-4-year olds is totally inappropriate,” Tompane said. “We should be reaching for the highest common denominator. The most benign, lighthearted, age appropriate thing possible.”
But Luna said it is not up to him, or to anyone else to lay out what an individual believes should be acceptable to others when it comes to books at the library.
“Regardless of who supports what and the numbers involved, we’re dealing with a whole category of protective rights which are not only under best library practices nationally, but also under state law, and are not to be played with,” Luna said.
Record requests to ban books in 2022
Coronado is just one small city that is involved in a much larger culture war of banning or putting restrictions on books in libraries and in schools across the country.
A recent study by the American Library Association (ALA) found that the requests to ban books broke a record in 2022, and that 13 of the most challenged books were confronted due to LGBTQIA+ themes.
Further, all 13 of them were flagged as “sexually explicit” according to a recent CNN article.
Most of the challenges were to books written by or about a person of color or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community,”-American Library Association.
In a Sept. 19 press release, the ALA states that “the number of unique titles challenged has increased by 20 percent from the same reporting period in 2022, the year in which the highest number of book challenges occurred since ALA began compiling data more than 20 years ago. Most of the challenges were to books written by or about a person of color or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.”
What is progress in Coronado?
So, what is progress in Coronado?
To Tompane, having a book like “The Rainbow Parade” with its illustrations in a children’s library would have shocked the community 10 years ago, but she said now it is normalized.
“What is going to be normalized 10 years from now? Where is the line? That’s why we’re asking for some type of objective line and standard,” Tompane said.
To Luna, having a book like “The Rainbow Parade” read during story time is the progress.
“The fact that the LGBTQ community is now more embraced, more normalized, is good. Just like the way we normalize, or try to normalize, race relations in America.” Luna said. “We’re at one of those reflection points. You’re either stepping forward or stepping back.”