Colchester first selectman asks that RuPaul book be removed from public library

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Jun. 28—COLCHESTER — First Selectman Andreas Bisbikos has asked that the town's public library remove a book about American entertainer and drag queen RuPaul, claiming it contained a sexually provocative image.

According to Colchester's Library Director Kate Byroade, the book, "Who is RuPaul?", has not been removed from the library but is under review by library staff.

Bisbikos announced on Facebook on Monday morning that a parent had "brought forward a serious concern regarding a book found in the children's section of the library."

"The book contains sexually provocative drawings in which the parent found offensive," Bisbikos continued. "The book in question was immediately removed from circulation. I have instructed Kate Byroade, our Library Director, to begin an inventory of the children's material. We encourage parents that come across any material in the children's section that may be deemed questionable, to bring it to the attention of the library staff immediately."

The post set off a maelstrom of critical comments from Colchester residents accusing Bisbikos of censorship and homophobia.

Byroade clarified Bisbikos's statement on Monday, noting that the book had not been removed from the library collection but instead, "We checked it out internally because we are reviewing it."

"However, we have not received a formal Statement of Concern about Library Resources form," she said. "I have no idea who brought this to the first selectman."

Byroade explained the process, which neither the first selectman nor the complaining parent took, to ask for the removal of a book.

"The process is that we have a form, a person fills it out, my staff and I review the item, we respond to the person. If they are unsatisfied with our response, then they can go to the Board of Selectmen, and the Board of Selectmen would have final decision," Byroade said.

"Who is RuPaul?" is part of a popular series of children's books of short biographies of public figures past and present, be it Napoleon, Joan of Arc, Oprah Winfrey, Dolly Parton or others.

Byroade said the illustration a parent apparently took issue with "depicts a woman, it might be somebody in drag, but it looks like a woman to me, in thigh-high boots and a bustier, which is what basically every woman superhero wears, and a couple women are dancing."

"It was explained to me as sexually provocative, and I do not find it sexually provocative, so I said I don't," Byroade said. "They said it was a sexually provocative image. That was the complaint. I don't know what to do for you. We will review the book. Normally we'd wait for a form and then we'd review the book."

"I was really surprised it was this book, and I think we had it out on our Pride display in the Children's Department," Byroade added.

In her more than 12 years as library director, she said she can only remember one other instance of someone asking for a book to be removed. "The only other complaint I've received about a book was literally that the book was in terrible condition and, when I saw the book, I said, 'Yes. It is in terrible condition. We'll get it out of the collection.'"

Byroade said she is aware of the national climate surrounding issues of censorship and homophobia. Just this month, the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, stormed libraries in California and North Carolina during LGBTQIA+-themed children's story hours, loudly proclaiming their objections to drag queens.

On June 24, the American Library Association issued a statement condemning the threat of violence in the country's libraries and the targeting of LGBTQIA+ material. An association spokesperson referred The Day to the statement when asked about the situation in Colchester:

"The American Library Association condemns, in the strongest terms possible, violence, threats of violence and other acts of intimidation increasingly taking place in America's libraries, particularly those acts that aim to erase the stories and identities of gay, queer, transgender, Black, Indigenous, persons of color, those with disabilities and religious minorities," the statement reads. "ALA stands with our members, all library workers and those who govern libraries who courageously face down threats to their personal and professional well-being because of their efforts to celebrate diversity and foster inclusion in their communities, in the belief that every human being deserves respect and dignity. ALA stands shoulder to shoulder with our LGBTQIA+ colleagues and other library workers who are disproportionately harmed by these attacks."

ACLU Connecticut Executive Director David McGuire commented on the situation in Colchester upon becoming aware of news reports on the subject, noting, "Book bans are misguided and inappropriate attempts to try to suppress our First Amendment right to access information."

"The Colchester First Selectman's attempt to remove a book about RuPaul Charles, an Emmy-winning television producer and a Black gay man, is the latest example of the types of book bans that are taking hold across the country, which specifically aim to remove books that are by and about people of color, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized people," McGuire said in the statement. "These book bans work to erase the history and lived experiences of women, people of color, and LGBTQ people and censor conversations about race, gender, and sexuality that impact young people's daily lives. We all have a right to read and learn free from viewpoint-based censorship, and young people have a First Amendment right to read and learn about the history and viewpoints of all communities in our libraries."

About four hours after his original post, Bisbikos returned to Facebook to elaborate on his position in response to pleas for clarification from town residents.

"This was never about censorship and the First Selectman plays no role in what books are purchased or displayed in our library," Bisbikos wrote. "I was merely attempting to be responsive to a concern coming from a parent in our town. It was never the intention to permanently remove any books but to merely question if they belonged in the children's section or the adult section; therefore, I reached out to our Director of Library Services."

"I have instructed the parent that they have five days to file the appropriate paperwork with the library placing their complaint in writing at which time it will be the Director of Library Services and solely the Director of Library services, duty to respond," he added.

He responded to questions from The Day via email on Tuesday morning. He said at issue was age appropriateness.

The fact that "Who is RuPaul?" Is part of a series of children's books is "inconsequential," Bisbikos said.

"The issue was over whether a sexually provocative image should be placed in the children's section of the library and if not, can we find a more age-appropriate placement for it," he wrote.

Asked whether he still found the book inappropriate after Monday's public outcry, Bisbikos said that his "concerns are with the placement of a book containing a sexually provocative image, not the book itself."

Bisbikos denied that the original complaint and his action in support of it was a result of homophobia. "The decision to review the book has nothing to do with anyone's sexual orientation or any social issues," he wrote. "None of the other Pride Books were pulled. If this image was found in a book about George Washington in the children's section, there would have been an identical response."

The first selectman also pushed back on accusations of censorship: "Nothing is being banned or censored," he wrote. "Books may be reviewed to identify if they are age-appropriately placed in the library."

Bisbikos said he believed the parent would file a formal complaint on Tuesday, if they hadn't already.

He lobbied once more for an inventory of the children's section of the library.

"Protecting our children is important," he said. "I feel that it is imperative that we review to see if there are other books that may contain sexually suggestive imagery and whether consider placing them in more age-appropriate location."

This is a developing story.

s.spinella@theday.com