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A library branch manager in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, has spent most of the summer not knowing whether she will lose her job, after creating a book display featuring LGBTQ romance titles in June.Last month, The Acadiana Advocate reported that Cara Chance received a letter on Friday, July 22, from library board of control president Robert Judge that her employment would be discussed during a closed session the following Monday. At issue was a new policy announced by the Lafayette Parish Library forbidding “cultural displays,” a somewhat vague descriptor that seems to target LGBTQ-themed books and titles that address Black and Cajun cultural heritages.
Chance has been vocal about opposing such policies, and in June she created a book display that included teen romance novels that depicted LGBTQ relationships. Some of the titles featured in the display included Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, and Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill. The display led the library’s board to accuse Chance of willful insubordination, and place her job on the agenda for the next closed-session meeting. But a large outpouring of support for Chance before and at the meeting seems to have caused the board to table the issue until the following month. The library’s board reconvened earlier this week to vote to recommend local government council purchase land for a new branch building for an area that is socio-economically challenged and geographically isolated from other public libraries by an interstate and a thruway. The 2020 U.S. Census indicates that there are over 240,000 people that the Lafayette Parish Public Library serves. Noticeably left off the agenda was the status of Chance’s employment with the Lafayette Parish Public Library system. “I think the library board’s purpose in leaving Cara off the agenda on Monday night was to give the false impression that the matter has been somehow settled,” Lynette Mejia, a member of the grassroots group Lafayette Citizens Against Censorship told Motherboard. “They’re hoping the issue fades out of the public’s attention. Since she wasn’t immediately fired, I think they believe that most people will assume her job is safe, the furor will die down, and they can fire her quietly later on, perhaps when her FMLA ends.”
Chance stepped away from her position to take six weeks of medical leave the day after the hearing. Motherboard could not reach Chance for comment, as civil service rules forbid librarians from speaking to members of the media under threat of termination.“Cara’s supporters are paying VERY close attention to her case, and we aren’t going away,” Mejia added. “We will be there, month after month, for as long as it takes, to ensure that she receives justice because this entire charade should never have happened.” The incident comes at a time of increased hostility toward librarians over LGBTQ books in schools and public libraries. Titles by Black and LGBTQ authors have been among the most banned books this year. Libraries across the U.S. have also been repeatedly targeted by far-right groups over their inclusion of Pride-themed events like Drag Queen Story Hour.“I’m doing this because everything’s a fight, and if I put these books out right now, I feel like I am inviting people to challenge these books,” Lafayette Parish Library director Danny Gillane previously told The Advocate. The local paper also reported that Gillane was unaware of the board’s decision to take disciplinary action against Chance, nor did the library director request the board to do so.
Last spring, the Lafayette Parish Library’s board also voted to significantly limit the level of input librarians can have on book challenge reconsideration committees. These actions mirror the threats to librarians across the country that Motherboard has previously reported on, yet this is the first instance that signaled a potential firing. When it came time for “Comments from the public on any item not on the agenda,” at the meeting on Monday, Judge asked the board’s legal advisor if Louisiana law requires the library board to allow residents to speak about issues not on the agenda, to which the audience let with laughter.Patron Mary Lib Guercio told the board that staffing and retention of library professionals is becoming an issue. “We’re going to have a very difficult time attracting competent qualified interested employees to even appy for jobs given the atmosphere and the hyperbole that constantly surrounds the actions of this board,” Guercio told the library board. “Going forward this board needs to do a better job of managing its personnel with dignity and according to due process and also in managing its relationship with the public.”Matthew Humphrey, former president of PFLAG Lafayette called for Judge’s resignation as library board president, calling the board director to remain in the leadership role dangerous to the children the library system serves. “Building a library system is what you’re here for; it’s [the library director’s] purview to operate it; you guys are just here to make decisions to build it, not to destroy it for the sake of the church and keep it in the national news,” Humphrey said to the library board. Before returning to his seat, he called for the crowd to hold up their signs for Cara and signs against fascism. Before adjourning the meeting, Judge asked the audience to join him and the board in a closing prayer. This request was met with an ecstatic series of “Nopes,” “Not doing its,” and calls for a separation of church and state.