Two librarians and two patrons are suing the Kansas town of Sterling and its public library board after the librarians claim they were fired for a display that included symbols celebrating diversity and promoting autism awareness. You read that right. The lawsuit says the Sterling Free Public Library’s eight-member board violated the First Amendment rights of former Carnegie Library Director Kari Wheeler and her assistant, Brandy Lancaster.
The defendants are the library’s board of directors, the city of Sterling, its mayor, and two library board members. The two patrons suing alongside the librarians are Samantha Corwin and Audra Asher, both of whom are neurodivergent.
When the board fired the two librarians in July, it vaguely said they had lost confidence in their ability to do their jobs. At the time, Wheeler told local news station KWCH that she didn’t think that excuse had anything to do with anything, explaining that a small “diversity” display she had put up in June was seen by Library Board Vice President Michelle Miller—and the rainbow colors in it set Miller off.
“But I was told to take it down because it has a rainbow infinity flag,” Wheeler said. “June is National Gay Pride Month and I was told that this was not appropriate t[o] post. And I said, ‘it’s not about any of that.’ I said, ‘it’s about autism,’ and so I didn’t see the problem with posting it.”
And there’s more.
According to The Topeka Capital-Journal, the lawsuit specifically calls out the transparent bigotry of the move, writing that patrons of the library “are entitled to a library that embraces a range of viewpoints, not just the viewpoints of those with an aversion to rainbow colors and a disdain for LGBTQ citizens.”
That’s not all. Wheeler seems to be able to produce texts from Miller, where Miller allegedly writes, "I do not want any kind of rainbow display (aside from solely colors focused) especially in this month. We have a conservative town and as a library do not need to make political statements (see Target and Budlight as negative examples). I certainly do not want the library to promote LGBTQ agendas." She followed this up with a show of how forward-thinking she is: “I am totally fine with diversity of skin color display, just not represented with rainbow colors.”
Reportedly, on the same day, a city employee named Jessi Dobson, who just so happens to be Miller’s church buddy, texted Miller that the display was “not okay,” and the autism symbol had made her “sick to her stomach.” Maybe you should go to a doctor for that, Ms. Dobson?
In an op-ed appearing in The Wichita Eagle, Dion Lefler writes that only two board members were willing to even talk to him about the affair, and both claimed they wouldn’t talk about the vote or who voted, “citing executive privilege — although under state law the vote is required to be public and is a matter of public record.” But Lefler did make this very clear point about the board and its strange view of democracy and power:
I asked for the Library Board’s budget, to see where they get their money and what they do with it. It turns out they haven’t done a budget for years and there’s no way to tell what they’ve been doing with the $60,000 or so they get from city taxes each year, plus state and nonprofit support.
Once again, the accountability here is being directed at the librarians, when it should be laser-focused on the board.
Sign the petition: Stop book bans!
What do you do if you're associated with one of the biggest election fraud scandals in recent memory? If you're Republican Mark Harris, you try running for office again! On this week's episode of "The Downballot," we revisit the absolutely wild story of Harris' 2018 campaign for Congress, when one of his consultants orchestrated a conspiracy to illegally collect blank absentee ballots from voters and then had his team fill them out before "casting" them. Officials wound up tossing the results of this almost-stolen election, but now Harris is back with a new bid for the House—and he won't shut up about his last race, even blaming Democrats for the debacle.