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Cultural power struggle at Iowa library throws 'dark clouds' over small town

Iowa's small rural public library was driven by anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, progressive and LGBTQ-themed book censorship attempts, and alleged harassment of LGBTQ staff. I was involved in a month-long controversy. 

The situation reached a turning point last month when the library (a place called the "center of the community") was forced to close. A week after the interim director resigned, she said she felt exiled to being gay. 

This shows that the undercurrent of homosexuality is present in a small proportion of the 5,000 inhabitants. Although not representative of the entire community, the controversy has split it up in recent months, building upnational headlinesand making some LGBTQ residents feel dangerous and unwelcome. .. 

Efforts to censor LGBTQ books in many communitiesacross the United States andincreased threats targeting drag queen story hour events, Vinton's situation has become clear to be a microcosm of national trends. It also marks the arrival of a new battlefieldforin the cultural war: the public library. 

Vinton Public Library in Vinton, Iowa.
Vinton Public Library in Vinton, Iowa.Google Maps

"This has especially brought dark clouds to the community," said 42-year-old gay Dan Engledow. His life in Vinton. "There are a few people who are causing a lot of problems." 

Vinton is now not only lacking in library services that many inhabitants depend on, but the community is lesbian, gay, We are facing a bigger question about how we are welcomed by bisexual, transgender and queer people. 

"Like other small Midwestern communities, it's not as open to many LGBTQ communities," said Molly Jennings, a former editor of Vinton Eagle and Cedar Valley Times. "It's the first time I remember being so explicit." 

'It's not the content of this town'

The library's boiling cultural clash Dating back to late 2020. According to McMahon, decades of experience as a library administrator have ledto take overfrom Virginia Horsten andto retire at the library after more than 30 years.

"If things stay the same for a long time, change becomes very difficult," McMahon said. 

In January 2021, she hired gay Colton Neely as a librarian for her new child. She called him "totally wonderful," but after hiring him, she said the environment that some patrons had created in the library was no longer "comfortable." 

Within a few months after Neely was hired, McMahon said that the patron she didn't name was a pastor who was familiar with the matter, including Neely. He identified him as his wife, but said he had checked out. Some children's books refused to return them for a long time. One of them was written by First Lady Jill Byden and the other was written by Vice President Kamala Harris (Harris visited the library in 2019 to read her). The book "Sometimes People March" about checked-out activities mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement and the pride flag. 

Eventually the book came back, but McMahon said she began to blame some patrons for already having a liberal agenda. rice field. 

"Gossip is rampant in many places, but in small towns it tends to go very fast," she said. 

In April 2021, a pastor of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Binton said the library was "a particular political position and a particular political party," according to a copy of the email shared with NBC News. Pastor Stephen Preus had problems with the same book and asked why the library did not choose to display the biography of former President Donald Trump and the book of former Vice President Mike Pence instead. According to his email, what Preus is even more concerned about is what he calls the promotion of the library's left-wing ideology, including "LGBT status enhancement," "transgender," and "Black Lives Matter, Inc." was.

Preus did not respond to the request for comment.

Finally, Mr. McMahon said he decided that the library could not be operated effectively due to the growing enthusiasm in the town. After serving for over a year, she resigned in July 2021 and was about an hour and a half away. She currently heads the Public Library in Dewitt, Iowa. 

After McMahon left, Neely stepped into her shoes until the library board could hire more permanent replacements. For months, the library was open from 8 am to 5 pm, Neely said. Essentially alone. All the while, he claimed to have dealt with both subtle and explicit homosexual aversions from a handful of patrons.

One day, when he was wearing a bow tie, a patron told him to "dress down," he remembered. "She said," It's not the purpose of this library. It's not the purpose of this town. "

News: Vinton library in Iowa embroiled in banned book debate temporarily closes
Colton Neely of Binton Public Library.Samantha Hernandez / USA Today Network

Neely is also a longtime resident of Vinton, Brooke Kluckenberg, and Neely is his and her children. He claimed to have commented in front of him that he recognized that he was homosexual. library. McMahon heard that Kruckenberg and other patrons called Neely a "gay guy" in a negative way, and although Neely was characterized as a microaggression from Krkenberg. I confirmed that it was a target. 

While Neely was an interim board member, Jennifer Kreutner, secretary and treasurer of the Library Commission, said that the library included titles dealing with LGBTQ topics. I proposed to cover the title with the sleeves of the book. According to Neely, McMahon, and another person familiar with the matter, Kreutner previously opposed a summer reading challenge that encouraged patrons to read books by people of color and LGBTQ authors. 

Kreutner's suggestion to cover a particular book with a sleeve or move it elsewhere in the library was a topic of the enthusiastic library board on Tuesday night. According to a meeting recording shared with NBC News, another board member censored Kreutner during the meeting, and several board members discussed some of her actions on the board with Kreutner. ..

"I don't think expressing opinions or concerns on behalf of the people of the community is a conflict of interest," Kreutner said at the meeting. She then apologized after accusing her of board members of representing only a conservative Christian perspective, but said, "I represent the entire local community, but most of them He is a conservative Christian. "  

Neither Kruckenberg nor Kreutner responded to NBC News' request for comment.

Jimmy Kelly, chairman of the library's board of directors, said the board was not officially informed of discrimination against Neely and other staff at the time of the alleged case. He also said in a previous interview with the board on Tuesday that he had no prior knowledge of Kreutner's alleged proposal to hide certain titles on the cover of the book.

"Something went wrong"

In November, the library board hired a new director. Lenny Greenley, a librarian with years of experience and a master's degree in library science and informatics, was the one who thought Neely could "repell this crowd."

"From the moment I waved her hand, I thought,'She's in this position,'" Neely said. 

Greenlee worked as a library assistant at a public library in Marion, Iowa for about three years, at Marion's first LGBTQ pride event, including a drag queen storytime. We supported the promotion. Events and parades around the library. Shortly after joining Vinton in January, she wasselected by the American Library Association's I Love My Librarian Award from more than 1,300 librarians nationwide 

{110. } Neely said the library situation began to improve after Greenlee took over, and he returned to the position of a child librarian. Still, he sometimes struggled to attract his family to his storytime events. He said he believed this was partly because his parents seemed to oppose the fact that he was gay. 

"Deep, I felt something was wrong," he said. 

At the Library Board meeting on March 9, a motion was made to install a gender-neutral toilet in the building. It was unanimously passed, but at the meeting Kruckenberg joined the residents' choir, claiming that the library staff had a "liberal agenda."

"I don't think the library represents our town well by hiring the majority of staff who are part of the LGBTQ community," she wrote in a statement. According to the attendees and the minutes of the meeting. Neely and Joey Anderson, two of the library's six employees at the time, were openly LGBTQ, Neely said.

Kruckenberg said, "Selection of books on display, cross-dressing of employees, Facebook posts, and non-gender bathrooms are being considered.

Greenlee left the March meeting "ghostly white," Neely said.  

Anderson, who uses a gender-neutral pronoun, sent an email to NBC News about what happened when Greenlee pulled them into her office the day after the meeting. Said that he told. They called her experience "catastrophic."

"It contributed to a rather terrible discomfort over the next few months," they said. 

According to a prepared statement shared with the minutes, NBC News and local news reports, Kruckenberg with local librarians who decided to resign at the March meeting. He claimed to have spoken to his parents. She stops coming from assisting the library or altogether because of "staffing decisions" and "liberal books on the shelves." She said she wanted to "balance" books rather than ban them or remove them from the library.

"About all the books on display on the subject of becoming transgender," Kruckenberg's prepared statement said: From her birth to her life. 

Minutes Kreutner recorded the March meeting, but refused to create an audio file at the request of Greenlee and city officials, the board said. Members said at a meeting on Tuesday. The board then spent $ 300 to retain a lawyer. The lawyer sent a letter to Kreutner stating that it is legally required to create a file under the Public Records Act. A copy of the letter shows. Chairman of the Board Kelly confirmed that Kreutner finally submitted the audio file. 

After the March board meeting, Greenlee put together a seven-page response to Kruckenberg's allegations, including a diversity audit of children's book collections. At the Library Board meeting on April 13, she presented her findings. Of the approximately 5,800 children's books and other materials in the library, only seven had subject headings for the terms "LGBT," "gay," and "transgender." There were 31 books with headings on Christian themes. 

Greenlee also blamed Kruckenberg's comments from her March meeting. If they feel unsafe, threaten or harass them, let her know. 

"I strongly hope that all community members will be satisfied with all aspects of the library, but I have been in the library long enough to find that it is not realistic." She wrote in an official statement. , She read it completely at the meeting. 

Neely was sitting behind Kruckenberg and her family. Several residents explained that they were a powerful force in the town. When Greenlee finished speaking, Neely said many of them shook her head.

"They obviously didn't accept it," he said. 

According to Anderson, by May 23, Greenlee had called staff to her office, submitted her resignation, and she said she had accepted her position at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. Said in tears. She said she would leave in early June. 

"We are under attack from community members, leaders and board members without a director," Anderson said in an email to NBC News. 

Greenlee declined to comment on the recording of this story.

The library board accepted Greenlee's resignation and reappointed Neely as interim board member at the board meeting on June 8. According to Neely and Kelly, the president, who attended the meeting, about 100 people gathered at the meeting and many had to move to the city hall. 

Molly Luck, a library assistant at the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals, who lived in Vinton for eight years with her husband, was at a meeting to express her disappointment in this situation. He was one of the many inhabitants I spoke to. The community said, "We have run out of two highly qualified and highly qualified librarians." 

"This library is certainly suffering, but it's not the fault of the diverse books and staff identified as LGBTQIA +," she said at the conference. Find someone who can put up with being targeted by members of the community just by working.

"I had it."

Neely also left in just a few weeks.  

"It can be said that half of the crowd was like,'Hmm, tired,'" he said of the June 8 meeting. "It was a board similar to what I said," I had it. "

He resigned to the Library Board on June 27, and despite his hard-earned qualifications, he wrote it. He just felt he was reduced to "homosexuals in the library". 

"It hurts and I'm disappointed," he writes. 

Neely's departure coincided with another staff's departure.Sudden exitclosed the library for more than a week at the beginning of July, leaving residents who were dependent on the library, such as housewife Kelsey Ann Weederin. rice field. Three moms. 

"They just closed the door, that's it," she said. 

Wiederin moved to Vinton from the nearby La Porte City community about a year ago. She said Neely had the knack for interacting with her oldest child with a disability. She said it was "painful" to find out that he had resigned earlier this summer.

The other staff member who left at the time of Neely's departure was Connie Bennett. Connie Bennett confirmed to NBC News that she was on leave. Anderson accused Bennett of doing what he had previously recognized as a subtle transphobic statement in an email to NBC News. Kelly said at a board meeting on Tuesday that the investigation into unidentified employees was completed and that employees would return to work. He also stated that the board voted to refer the situation to the city's Title VI Coordinator for ongoing surveillance. Title VI is a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits discrimination in classes protected by federal-funded programs. 

When contacted by NBC News, Bennett simply confirmed that she would return to her job and introduced additional questions to city administrator Chris Ward. Confidential information unless the employee decides to dismiss, demote, or resign. 

Anderson, the only remaining staff member since Neely's departure, resigned on Tuesday after learning that Bennett would return to work at the library. 

The library building is currently open half the normal time, as seven of the nine board members have been trained to support the operation of the library. On Tuesday, the board elected a new director, but she may not take office for another month. The next director urged not to publish her name before resigning from her current position. 

On the other hand, as the library capacity decreases, summer programs decrease and access to building resources such as free internet and necessary low-income office supplies is reduced. 

Vinton resident Crystal Pladsen-Coder spoke at a city council meeting last week, including more than 400 signatures urging city leaders to "stand up"Petition I read the book. And "paving the way when we regain our city." As the controversy at the library unfolds, she also strives to place a pride sign in the garden across Vinton in recent months. Led. Shortly after she spoke, someone else used the public comment period to blame the dangers of "critical race" and "critical gender" theories. 

A sign promoting diversity on the front law of Molly Rach's house.
A sign that promotes the diversity of the pre-laws of Mollylac's house.Molly Rach

Another resident said, "One person was used to brand the entire community." This is an emotion shared by many of Vinton's current and her former residents.  

"The loudest kind of people are getting all the attention," said Tracy Walker, a former Vinton resident who now lives nearby. 

Walker said he was disappointed following the controversy over the past few months. She said the residents of Vinton felt like they were gathering together with a very small group of people who did not represent everyone. 

Walker raised two gay sons in Vinton, a house near the library. One of his sons, Jordan, said he grew up in Vinton, although he wasn't necessarily gay. Sure, he felt comfortable in some places and not in others. 

One of the places he felt safe was the library. He was there. From fifth grade to high school, he "started a tireless effort to be reasonably straight," he said.

After graduating from high school, Jordan, now 37, was forced to leave Chicago and eventually landed in Chicago. Chicago was called the "perfect place" for those who missed the Midwest to live as their "real self." 

Like many moms, Tracy Walker said his sons always wanted to return near their hometown and raise a family in the area. But in the past few months, she realized that her dreams could be the cause of her loss. 

"I need to give it up," she said.