Michigan prosecutor mulls charging Lapeer library over LGBTQ book
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- A Michigan county prosecutor is raising the specter of criminal charges over a controversial book
- ‘Gender Queer: A Memoir’ is an LGBTQ-themed graphic novel
- The book will be discussed at what is expected to be a heated meeting Thursday
April 6: Michigan library book bans: lessons from a federal Texas case
March 20: The fate of ‘Gender Queer’ now in the hands of Lapeer librarian
March 15: Experts cast doubt that Lapeer librarian can be charged over LGBTQ book
Lapeer County Prosecutor John Miller says he may file criminal charges against employees or officials of the Lapeer District Library if an LGBTQ-themed graphic novel isn’t removed from the shelves.
Miller told Bridge Michigan on Monday the illustrations in the book “Gender Queer: A Memoir” could rise to the level of accosting, enticing or soliciting a child for immoral purpose, a felony punishable by up to four years in prison.
“I hope that is not the outcome of this,” Miller said. “I want this to come to a conclusion” that the community agrees on that would “remove the book from the library.”
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The threat of criminal charges against librarians is believed to be a first in the state, and is an escalation of cultural wars that have spread across public and school libraries in Michigan over the past year.
The book, an LGBTQ-themed graphic novel with illustrations of sex acts, has caused controversy in libraries in Michigan and across the country, and Miller’s threat follows a controversy over the book that has brewed since fall in this rural county in Michigan’s Thumb.
Miller cited the specific criminal code — 750.145a — he believed the book’s presence in a public library could violate.
The law is often associated with police sting operations of adults who prey on minors, barring enticing anyone under 16 "to commit an immoral act, to submit to an act of sexual intercourse or an act of gross indecency or to any other act of depravity or delinquency.”
Amy Churchill, director of the library, said she’s undeterred by Miller’s threat.
“I have heard, if he could, he’d arrest me. He’s trying to intimidate us,” she told Bridge.
“I am not hard to find,” she added. “If Mr. Miller wishes to arrest me, I am in my office working for the patrons and staff of the Lapeer District Library Monday through Friday.”
Miller said he, “along with other county officials,” will urge the library to remove the book at a Lapeer District Library board meeting Thursday evening. Library officials are considering a patron request to remove “Gender Queer” from the library’s collection.
“Gender Queer: A Memoir,” was the most banned book in school libraries in 2022, according to PEN America, a group that advocates for writers, and the most challenged book by the American Library Association.
The graphic novel is the story of author Maia Kobabe’s coming-of-age as nonbinary, and includes illustrations of sex acts.
“Gender Queer” was one of the books that caused an uproar in Ottawa County last fall, when voters defunded the Patmos Library. That library is operating on donations for now but officials do not believe they can stay open indefinitely without taxpayer support.
No criminal charges against librarians have been publicly contemplated there, but library officials have received several threats of violence.
Keeping books some consider inappropriate away from children is drawing attention among some in Lansing as well. House Bill 4136, sponsored by Rep. Neil Friske, R-Charlevoix, would require public libraries to keep “obscene” books in an area where children do not have access.
Most public libraries are not designed in a way that would allow a restricted book area, Deb Mikula, executive director of the Michigan Library Association, told MLive.
Lapeer District Library serves about two-thirds of Lapeer County, east of Flint. There are seven small branch libraries in the district, with a main library in the city of Lapeer.
Churchill told Bridge that the library purchased a copy of “Gender Queer” in the fall of 2022 at the request of a patron. Soon afterward, some residents began objecting to the book.
One resident checked the book out and took it to the police, Churchill said. The police returned the book to the library.
Miller is a Republican who won election as prosecutor in November. In January, four weeks after taking office, Miller filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the library, seeking records connected to the consideration, approval and purchase of “Gender Queer,” which he misidentified as “Gender Queen.”
The public records also asked for a record of “who voted for and against the addition of the book” to the library.
Lapeer’s library board doesn’t approve individual book purchases, Churchill said. According to the library’s policies, Churchill, as director, has final approval of purchases.
Churchill said she was shocked by the FOIA, sent on official stationery of the Lapeer County prosecutor’s office, since she had never spoken to Miller or anyone in his office, and the information could have been gleaned with a phone call.
The FOIA letter stated Miller would “pay personally” for any charges incurred by the library in fulfilling the request.
“A FOIA is an extremely aggressive way to communicate with someone,” Churchill said. “Usually you’d try to talk to them first.”
Miller said he became involved when several county commissioners approached him with copies of books that had been checked out from the Lapeer library.
He said he dismissed concerns about two of the books – one with LGBTQ themes but no illustrations, and a second that had to do with race relations.
The third was “Gender Queer,” with illustrations that Miller said shocked him, “and that takes a lot for a prosecutor,” he said. “I’m an attorney, I’ve studied the constitution, I’ve passed the bar exam. My job is to take a position that protects our innocent and our youth. And if this isn’t child sexual abusive material, … it borders on it.”
Miller said the book’s target audience is teenagers, and that, to him, the drawings of sex acts appeared to involve “prepubescent boys.”
To the prosecutor, the book’s availability to youth could meet the bar for a crime in Michigan because, to him, the book “entices” underage teens to engage in sex acts.
“While I hope not to prosecute someone over this book, I feel it’s part of the community’s decision,” Miller said. “This isn’t about LGBTQ, this is about the exploitation of children.”
Churchill countered that Miller and other conservatives in the community are only objecting to an LGBTQ book with illustrations of sex acts, but not to books like “The Joy of Sex,” which depict sex acts by heterosexual couples, which is also housed at the library.
“If anything, we have an underrepresentation of books about marginalized communities,” including LGBTQ community, Churchill said.
“Gender Queer" is normally shelved in the adult section of the Lapeer library. To Miller, that doesn’t matter because teens could wander over and find it.
Miller declined to say who he would consider charging — Churchill as the director, library board members or the author of the book.
“I’m waiting for the community to chime in (before deciding whether to file criminal charges), to say this is something that should or should not be in the library,” Miller said. “The majority of the voices I’ve heard think it shouldn’t.”
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