On June 7, Macon County Commissioners convened to review several budget proposals. Among them was a request by Commissioner Ronnie Beale that Macon County add $20,000 in funding for the local library in order to keep salaries in pace with inflation. He pointed out that librarian salaries are “less than anything in the county”.
Commissioner Paul Higdon objected to the increase on the grounds that the library was displaying LGBTQ-related materials during Pride month (link to video). At the end of the budget discussions, the consensus was to deny these underpaid librarians, who had continued to serve the county during COVID, what amounted to a cost-of-living increase.
In his remarks, Commissioner Higdon repeatedly referred to the library’s pride display as divisive. We looked it up. “Divisive” is an adjective that refers to something that causes disagreement or hostility between people. Synonyms include alienating, estranging, isolating. If anyone was being divisive, it was Commissioner Higdon.
What I found most remarkable was the fact that the one example Commissioner Higdon offered of “divisive” content was a book titled “A Church for All”. I cannot think of anything less divisive than the notion of a church that ministers to everyone.
Commissioner Higdon expressed concern that the library was inappropriately promoting the LGBTQ community by displaying these books in a public place. I searched the Macon County Library online. I found 1,969 matching the keyword “church”, 568 titles matching the keyword, “Christ”, and 758 matching the keyword “Jesus”. Eliminating duplicates, these three key words yielded 2,759 titles. The keyword “LGBT” turned up only 39 titles. If you add “transgender” and “queer” to the search, you get to 239 – 8.7% as many.
Curiously, the first listing I found under the keyword “Church” was a book entitled “Gun Church”. The catalog summary explained that it was a novel about a man who is initiated “into a cult-like group that worships the essential nature of handguns”. I dug a little further: the keyword “guns” will get you 1,231 titles.
Commissioner Higdon raises a good question: what topics are being promoted with public funds? Unfortunately, as he himself admitted, Commissioner Higdon had not bothered to research the issue or to talk to anyone else, not even the librarians. It concerns me that a county commissioner would make such a recommendation with nothing to support him but his “own personal opinion”.
I would like to know: is it Macon County policy to welcome books about churches that worship the essential nature of handguns while kicking LGBTQ children to the streets? Forty percent of homeless youth in the US are LGBTQ. They are not homeless by choice. They are homeless because their families, communities, and churches have decided that they are expendable. They are homeless because they find the streets to be safer and more welcoming than their community.
Blue Ridge Pride believes in a Western North Carolina that is welcoming to all. We welcome Commissioner Higdon. We welcome his church. We do not welcome his efforts to impose his monoculture and personal opinions on the rest of us.
We live in a pluralistic society. Our libraries and public servants exist to serve a pluralistic community. Western North Carolina is home to an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 people who identify as LGBTQ. They have a right to find themselves represented in and supported by our public institutions. The only divisive force in this incident was a county commissioner who evidently doesn’t believe that a church should be for all.
At Blue Ridge Pride, we believe that WNC is full of people, companies, churches, and organizations who share our vision of a welcoming community. We just need to make them more visible. That is why we recently launched our WNC Pride Portal and its welcoming directories: Welcoming Businesses, Welcoming Faith & Spirit, Welcoming Groups, Welcoming Community Services.
Listings are free to any WNC organization that is willing to assert that it seeks to welcome all. Our hope is to add hundreds of welcoming businesses, professionals, churches, and groups to that listing so that our community can know how welcome they are.
Want to stand up for Pride? Show your support: Add your welcoming organization or group to our directories.
And support your local librarian.
Tina Madison White