A Republican mayor in a Mississippi city is withholding funds from his county’s library system, refusing to hand over the money until books containing LGBTQ representation are purged from the library’s collection.
Mayor Gene McGee of Ridgeland, Mississippi, is withholding $110,000 in funding from the Madison County Library System — the entirety of the first-quarter funds that the city owes to the county’s library program.
Tonja Johnson, the executive director of the Madison County Library System, contacted McGee when she noticed the program hadn’t received the money. The mayor told her she shouldn’t expect the funding any time soon.
“He explained his opposition to what he called ‘homosexual materials’ in the library, that it went against his Christian beliefs, and that he would not release the money as the long as the materials were there,” Johnson said in an interview with The Mississippi Free Press.
Johnson explained to McGee that the library didn’t work that way — it was there to serve everyone, not just elected officials. “I told him our collection reflects the diversity of our community,” she said.
In response, McGee said that “the library can serve whoever we wanted, but that he only serves the great Lord above,” Johnson went on.
Shortly after, the library held a board meeting — which McGee did not attend — to address the mayor’s refusal to release the funds to the library system. The library board ultimately agreed to bring the matter before the city’s board of alderman to see if the issue can be resolved there first.
McGee made the decision unilaterally, without the city board’s input.
Bob Sanders, legal counsel for the library board, was asked at the meeting if the mayor had the legal authority to ignore his contractual obligation to pay the library the $110,000 it was owed. “Uh, no,” Sanders reportedly said.
If the funds are not recovered, it “would definitely impact services,” and could even mean layoffs within the library system, Johnson said. She believes the mayor’s objections are coming from residents who complained to him, instead of to the library, about books with LGBTQ representation.
Johnson also noted that the supposedly objectionable material is mostly, if not all, books that follow LGBTQ characters or families through everyday situations and interpersonal relationships; the mayor has wrongly implied that these stories are inappropriate.
When pressed to elaborate on his reason for withholding the funds in an interview with The Mississippi Free Press, McGee said that “a large number of citizens…have complained about displays of sexual, whatever you want to call it, content.” But when asked what sexual content they complained about specifically, McGee refused to give examples.
Johnson reiterated that the library system exists not to reflect the mayor’s beliefs, but to serve everyone within the community.
“Anyone can walk into a library and find something that they don’t agree with, but the book that’s not quite right for you is exactly what someone else needs,” Johnson said. “And my job is to make sure that [everybody] has access to that.”
The county library system seems to have the support of the statewide Mississippi Library Commission (MLC). “One of the beautiful things about libraries is that libraries are for everyone,” the MLC said in a tweet on Wednesday. “No matter your age, gender, or walk of life, the perfect book is waiting for you at your local library.”