Controversy erupts in small Connecticut town after radical library director resigns "over LGBTQ issues"

The following includes editorial content that is the opinion of the author, a contributing writer to Law Enforcement Today. 

Suffield is a small, middle-class town about eighteen miles north of Hartford, Connecticut’s capital.

With a population shy of 16,000 people, one might think such a town would be immune from the plague of wokeness across the United States. Unfortunately, woke knows no boundaries.

According to the Hartford Courant, the library director in Suffield has resigned, a move that has rocked this right-leaning town and has led some to scrutinize town leaders, particularly First Selectman Colin Moll, and his perceived interference in library operations in town.

Julie Styles, who held the position for less than a year, lists her "pronouns" on her public LinkedIn page and claims in her position she is "committed to fighting censorship, increasing diversity and making all feel welcome, while inspiring and supporting my staff to use their skills and creativity to bring exceptional services and resources to the community".  

She resigned as director of the Kent Memorial Library, writing a farewell letter that appeared in the Suffield Observer.

In her letter, Styles complained of a culture in the community by town leaders that interfered with her role as director. For example, she cited a proposal to tag LGBTQ books with warning labels while allegedly telling her to “avoid putting up displays addressing current affairs or ones that represent marginalized communities.”

In response to Styles’ letter, First Selectman Colin Moll denied them, accusing her of sowing division in town while expressing dissatisfaction that “the (Suffield) Observer would post this article from a disgruntled employee who decided to leave based off of her perceptions.”

At a meeting of the Board of Selectmen earlier this month, some 100 residents showed up, with over a dozen complaining about the lack of LGBTQ “inclusion” and a perceived issue of political control placed on the library.

Earlier this year, the town gained attention when Moll challenged the display of a book about “pronouns. Styles denied that the reason she left wasn’t the challenge itself but rather “the way the first selectman and other members in the government of the town were treating the library.”

The book, “What are your words? A Book About Pronouns,” deals with a child named Ari and his uncle as they “explore their community and the words used to describe their neighbors and themselves.”

Some residents felt the book, directed toward children, was inappropriate for children and shouldn’t be in the library. With made-up pronouns such as “Ze/Zir,” it is clear children would have been confused since there are two genders…male and female.

According to Styles, the straw that broke the camel’s back was when Moll issued a directive for the library to publish information regarding meeting room reservations, including the name and reason for the meeting. That information had previously been kept private.

Connecticut Library Association President Sarah McCusker says publishing such information is illegal.

“That’s actually a state statute,” McCusker said, pointing to Sec. 11-25 of the Connecticut General Statutes.

That law states:

“Records maintained by libraries that can be used to identify any library user or link any user to a library transaction, regardless of format, shall be kept confidential, except that the records may be disclosed to officers, employees, and agents of the library, as necessary for the operation of the library. (2) Information contained in such records shall not be released to any third party, except (A) pursuant to a court order, or (B) with the written permission of the library user whose personal information is contained in the records.”  

McCusker said the Board of Selectmen’s proposed mandate was “appalling.”

“There are ethics and laws surrounding what we do, and it is not right for elected officials to ignore those,” McCusker said.

Moll denied trying to obtain personal information violating state law, noting the town’s IT director said software in the library’s computer system could be “tweaked” to publish information that would not violate privacy.

“We never asked for somebody’s name, address, or phone number,” Moll said.

However, Library Commission Chair Austin Roberts disagreed with Moll’s assessment, stating, “Those are not all that is considered private under state legislature because it’s any transaction.”

Styles refused to publish the information, whereby she was told by Moll it was “insubordination,” Roberts, who was present at the time, said.

The issue of the library calendar first came about when Selectman Jerry Mahoney asked about a meeting held at the library by the group Anti-Bias, Anti-Racism Suffield.

“The Board of Selectman representative was trying to open up the library calendar so that he could see when our ABAR group was meeting so that he and other representatives who were against them could go and attend,” Roberts told the Courant.

Mahoney confirmed that he was the one who initiated the conversation.

“We were at the (Library Commission) meeting, someone mentioned that a group was going to be meeting, or has been meeting at the library, and I approached the staff and asked when the group would next be meeting, and they said, ‘we can’t tell you,’”

Mahoney told the Courant, later clarifying it was the ABAR group.

Mahoney believed that reservations of rooms in public buildings were a matter of public information and that “It’s not any of her (Styles) business what I do with that information.”

“What if I want to attend the meeting and hear what the people have to say?” Mahoney asked. “It’s a public building. You can’t have secret meetings of secret organizations where you don’t tell people when they’re meeting or who’s meeting.”

Moll denied Mahoney’s question about ABAR’s meeting spurred his decision to order the publication of meeting room reservations, calling the timing a “coincidence.”

“We just noticed that as we were looking at the calendars that they would say private event,” Moll said, noting the Town of Suffield owns the building.

He said that for transparency, it was essential to advise how the meeting room was being used.

“We do that at town hall. We do that at our community services building and (with) the library, there’s no exception. They’re town funded, and if they’re going to host meetings, all they have to do is put who’s using the meeting room.”

Some community members believed Moll’s directive resulted from using the room to read an “LGBTQ inclusive” book, whereby Moll said, “If people feel that way, that’s their perspective…I can’t control those feelings.”

Moll also criticized those who complained, saying it was a coincidence, but “these are the same type of people that say they’re the victim of everything.”

As expected, the founder of ABAR Suffield, Kristina Hallett, said she and fellow board members were “horrified” by Moll’s comments.

“How dismissive, condescending, and inappropriate it is for a town leader to refer to his constituents in that manner,” Hallett complained. “If Moll’s response to his constituents genuinely held concerns for the library, First Amendment rights, and support of marginalized groups in our town is ‘But these are the same type of people that say they’re the victims of everything,’ he is clearly showing that he lacks not only compassion but any kind of understanding how to address and dismantle institutionalized racism, homophobia, and transphobia, just to name a few.”

It is uncertain how “racism” entered the conversation about LGBTQ rights, but we digress. The LGBTQ mob is probably the least marginalized “protected” group in the country right now…all you have to do is watch the media.

Hallet said the proposed policy change wasn’t confirmed as procedure and noted it didn’t become public until Styles resigned. Ever the victim, Hallett complained the town’s board had displayed a “pattern” of opposition to the rainbow community.

For example, she complained that in 2021, the town refused to fly the “pride” flag for one day during pride month when requested to do so by some town residents.

The following year, the town wouldn’t permit the library to fly the rainbow flag. Finally, this year, the library was allowed to have a booth during the town’s pride celebration; however, it wasn’t permitted to display pride flags or any other signage.

When the controversy over the pronoun book erupted last spring, some accused the town of censorship. Moll slammed Styles’ comments that the town’s removal of the controversial book where she said, “That some people’s lives don’t deserve to be treated equally. That only some people’s stories are worth drawing attention to.”

While some people criticized the Selectboard, others supported the decision. One resident, Tracy Hespelt, said that library displays should show both sides of an issue instead of the “pro-pronoun” narrative pushed by Styles.

“A statement was made that there’s not an opposing view book available—that’s a problem,” Hespelt said. “The library’s not doing its job ensuring that it has a broad representation of all views.”

Mahoney believes the directive to present library displays in a “viewpoint-neutral” way is a matter of law.

“It sounds like the folks think that I have dreamt this up on my own, and I’m trying to impose my will on the library,” Mahoney said. “I’m just reporting what the courts have held and what the United States Supreme Court has held. And the town of Suffield does not have the luxury of disregarding binding, legal precedent.”

Mahoney cited United States v American Library Association, Inc., which he said shows how judges analyze cases “by different ways” while noting “that library decision-makers ought to be modest about their ability to predict how a reviewing court is going to analyze how a library has or has not complied with their First Amendment obligations.”

The case in Suffield is part of a more significant national problem where parents have become increasingly concerned about controversial materials being presented in the public square, such as libraries and schools.

McCusker complains, "Right now is a difficult time to be a librarian,” noting the number of challenges to book titles lodged by parents and government officials.

“There is not a librarian I know who has not had at least one situation at their library,” McCusker complained. “Whether or not it rose to the level of a full, formal complaint, everyone has been having these conversations.”

Many of the books that have been challenged include LGBTQ books, which push an agenda on vulnerable children and issues related to blacks, primarily those who drive Critical Race Theory or attempt to rewrite history, such as the absurd “1619 Project.”

McCusker told the Courant the “politicization” of libraries is disturbing.

“We really do pride ourselves on serving everybody in the community, regardless of their beliefs or their identities. And to have that acceptance and welcoming of everybody be turned around and weaponized against just to make us seem like some kind of extremist is really discouraging,” she said.

Meanwhile, in sleepy Suffield, the search for an interim library director is underway, an effort which appears to have ground to a halt when Moll and Selectwoman Kathleen Harrington grew concerned about the candidate put up by Roberts.
The candidate previously served as interim director.

Harrington is concerned about their management skills. Moll also noted budgeting issues came about during that person’s tenure. He also expressed concerns a similar bomb-throwing letter might come forth from the person pushed by Roberts.

For his part, Roberts believes hiring a new director will prove difficult for Suffield, seeking its third library director in four years.

“It is going to be very hard to find someone who wants to work in an environment that has been created in this town, whether by fact or by optic,” Roberts said. “I think we’re gonna be challenged in the search. I think losing Julie [Styles] was a major hit to this town.”

He also claimed residents are “concerned” about a perceived pattern of LGBTQ exclusion, noting he unenrolled his daughter from Suffield High School because she “no longer feels safe” in town as a member of the alphabet community.

He said “many teens and groups” he’s run say “there’s nowhere else in this town (where) the LGBTQ community feels welcome or safe,” citing their preference to use the library.

He complained the town needs to “deal with the issues” that cause people like Styles to leave in the first place.

“We’re just gonna be here again and again and again,” he told the Courant.

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The opinions reflected in this article are not necessarily the opinions of LET
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Dear 'Noah' (bad pseudonym, btw. Webster founded a book society here in CT. That is a precursor to the public library). Ms. Styles should be applauded, not criticized, for standing up for the law. It is ironic that you are 'forced' to use a fake name to 'protect your family and current employment status.' That is exactly what Ms. Styles chose not to do. To use her genuine voice and self to lend dignity to all people. When you write that 'woke knows no boundaries,' you are showing your true colors. Librarians don't have an agenda, we do not choose to politicize reading and learning. Being literate (something you should try) is key to advancing a society. Lastly, librarians are not building collections because we're 'woke,' or because we're trying to be nice. Read the US Constitution, specifically the First Amendment about the freedom of speech and redress of government. Read Title 42 of the US Code. Read your state constitution, your town charter, your job description. I guarantee that 'equal treatment under the law' is there. Douglas Lord - my real name.

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