Every year, LGBTQIA communities host amazing parades, marches, and events to celebrate their pride. Whether we are members of this community, family members, or allies, these events have been joyous celebrations of love, appreciation, and acceptance.  However, as youth advocates, we must also remember that Pride celebrations are in remembrance of the Stonewall Uprising on June 27, 1969 in New York City. Not only did these series of events expose the New York City Police Department’s intolerance of the LGBTQIA community, it spurred an entire community to demand equal rights, which turned into a movement that is alive and well.

After the Stonewall Uprising, libraries have played a significant part in providing the LGBTQIA community not just access to information, but created the “Task Force on Gay Liberation  that sought to provide the LGBTQIA community with greater representation in libraries and the community. While libraries have been providing programs and services to the LGBTQIA community for forty seven years, the current political and social climate has seen a resurgence of hate and intolerance towards LGBTQIA people. However, as teen library staff, we can support our LFBTQIA teens by giving them access to knowledge and opportunities to help them advocate for themselves.

In order to implement programs and services, we need to ensure that our libraries are safe places where teens do not have to fear prejudice or intimidation. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Hate Crimes Statistics report (2016):

There were 5,818 single-bias incidents involving 7,121 victims. Of those victims, 59.2 percent were targeted because of a race/ethnicity/ancestry bias; 19.7 percent because of a religious bias; 17.7 percent because of a sexual orientation bias; 1.7 percent because of a gender identity bias; 1.2 percent because of a disability bias; and 0.4 percent because of a gender bias.

As unsettling as these numbers are, libraries can do a number of things to support LGBTQIA youth.  One action we can take is to check all of our policies, specifically behavior and collection polices. By re-visiting our behavior policies, we can check to see if there are statements that specifically state what behavior will not be tolerated.  By updating, or revising, this policy, we inform the public that there are rules that must be maintained to provide a safe environment for everyone who steps through the door. We can inform the public in a variety including handouts or signage the welcomes everyone regardless of their ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, and identity.  Another policy we need to review is collection development policies. By reviewing the language and the timeliness of these guidelines, we can support teens’ right to read even when members of the community who wish to have specific materials removed based on their personal and private opinions. According to the Library Bill of Rights (in regards to minors):

“Article V of the Library Bill of Rights states, “A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.” The “right to use a library” includes free access to, and unrestricted use of, all the services, materials, and facilities the library has to offer. Every restriction on access to, and use of, library resources, based solely on the chronological age, educational level, literacy skills, or legal emancipation of users violates Article V.

With these policies in hand, we start to transform our services starting with of rooms and facilities. In others words, it’s time to talk about turning our YA room and/or library building in to safe place for all out users and here are some ideas to try:

  • Download this Safe Space Kit
  • Talk with your upper management about placing singage throughout the library
  • Promote your safe space by providing handouts, pamphlets, and social media
  • Invite local after school clubs or community organizations to host their meetings in teen rooms/areas

If we choose to provide a safe space, we need to also provide training opportunities for staff that don’t work with youth, have no idea what a safe place is, nor are they aware of the issues LGBTQIA teens’ experience. For example, connect with local LGBTQIA advocates to see if they can assist with cultural competency trainings. In order to provide the best service possible, the entire library staff needs to learn about this community and how to initiate positive dialogues with patrons who don’t understand, or disagree, with our safe space and policies. Staff should also learn skills to help deescalate situations where teens feel like they are being harassed or discriminated against. We have policies for a reason, but staff needs to know to enact those policies when patrons choose not to act appropriately and respectfully.

Once this foundation has been set, we can now create programs and services to not only welcome the LGBTQIA youth, but support them, and their peers, in a positive and  inclusive way. Here are a few things we can do to show support for LGBTQIA teens:

  • Check out YALSA’s Wiki for some great ideas including:
    1. Invite LGBTQIA representatives from the community to start a dialogue about the issues youth may face and how we, as library workers, and the public can support these youth
    2. Develop a diverse collection about LGBTQIA issues and/or feature LGBTQIA characters
  • Provide programs and services that advocate for LGBTQIA teens rights and interests
    1. Create social media campaigns in support of LGBTQIA youth
    2. Host programs that allow teens to express themselves in a creative and safe way (i.e., art, poetry, music, etc.)
    3. Provide social events with local LGBTQIA organizations
    4. Engage city, or county, public health departments, youth advocates, and police departments to educate youth in regards to personal safety and health concerns
  • Create online resources that are accessible 24/7 that teens can consult anonymously and any time of day or night
  • Provide handouts that list local community organizations that can provide legal, health care, and support resources (i.e., PFLAG and GLADD)

The sky is the limit when it comes to programming, but it’s also important to remember and solicit the suggestions of non-LGBTQIA teens as well. By reaching out to teens who face adversity (not just LGBTQIA teens), we can do amazing things for the library. Moreover,  by including teens from all backgrounds and all identities in our program, collection, and service decisions, we can create a precedence that will benefit the community and the library in the long run.  As it states in YALSA’s Organizational Plan:

“[T]eens need libraries and library staff in a way they may never have needed them before. Today’s adolescents face an expanding array of social issues that place them at physical and psychological risk, and libraries can help. Libraries can contribute to solving and alleviating the issues and problems that negatively impact teens, and can put more teens on the path to a successful and fulfilling life.

To play this role, library staff working for and with teens will need to take on roles and responsibilities that were not part of their job description in the past. Further, they will need to adopt an evolving orientation that shifts some focus away from traditional aspects of the job like collection development to allow for greater innovation, experimentation, and risk-taking.  What is needed is no less than a transformation of the teen library services profession.

Although this seems daunting for some of us who work conservative communities, know that these teens live in our communities and patron our libraries. Whether it’s by buying a few books or hosting a drag queen prom, these teens will come to our libraries in search of information and solace. In fact, any one of our teens can come to the library and we have no clue what they are experiencing, which is why it’s important to offer what we can and as loudly as we can.

For more information about building a diverse LGBTQIA teen collection, check out The Hub for some great suggestions!


About Deborah Takahashi

Deborah Takahashi is a Senior Librarian for the Monterey Park Bruggemeyer Library. Deborah has been working with teens and children for seventeen years and loves every minute. Deborah is also the author of "Serving Teens with Mental Illness at the Library: A Practical Guide."

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