Mississippi Mayor Withholding Funds Until LGBTQ Books Removed, Library Director Claims

An executive library director in Mississippi and a city's mayor are standing their respective grounds on the matter of which books, if any, should be banned from the public library.

"Funding for this year was being withheld until we removed what he called 'homosexual material' from the library," Madison County Library System Executive Director Tonja Johnson told WAPT-TV.

This comes after 2021 was slated to be the worst year since 2015 for states fighting LGBTQ and transgender rights, Human Rights Campaign said, and Mississippi enacted a law that bans transgender students from playing in a sport with the athlete's gender of choice, rather than his/her/their biological gender.

Johnson said that Richland Mayor Gene McGee is withholding $110,000 in funding from his Mississippi city's library.

McGee said he received complaints from citizens regarding a handful of books depicting members of the LGBTQ community, according to The Associated Press.

"His reasoning that he gave was that," Johnson said, "as a Christian, he could not support that, and that he would not release funding until we remove the material."

Johnson believes the mayor's order is the climax in a series of homophobic activism meant to censor certain queer literature, especially those written for children, according to the Mississippi Free Press.

Johnson said she explained to McGee that the library system was not a religious institution, saying "our collection reflects the diversity of our community," the Mississippi Free Press reported.

"He told me that the library can serve whoever we wanted, but that he only serves the great Lord above," Johnson said, according to the Mississippi Free Press.

McGee said in a statement to WAPT that the books are "inappropriate for children" and "...sexual connotations are not appropriate for children when they enter the library."

Withheld Funds, Mississippi Library, LGBTQ books
Until the Madison County Library System receives the withheld funds, money from other areas, like employee benefits and material purchases will have to be used to maintain daily operations, Tanja Johnson, executive director of the Madison County Library System, said, according to WLBT-TV. In this photo is the New York Public Library u2019s historic Rose Main Reading Room after reopening to the public following a 2-year restoration project on October 5, 2016, in New York City. Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

The library board will request a public hearing with the Ridgeland Board of Alderman, seeking clarification and the obtainment of the withheld funds, Johnson said, according to WAPT.

The board of alderman had approved the city budget in the fall, the AP reported. Alderman Ken Heard said McGee lacks the authority to deny the library the funds, according to WAPT.

McGee told the Mississippi Free Press he did not know whether he did have the power to withhold the funds, saying it is a "legal question" and that he'll ask his attorney to address it.

Until the library receives the funds, money from other areas, like employee benefits and material purchases will have to be used to maintain daily operations, Johnson said, according to WLBT-TV.

"Books in the library are for everybody, and our goal is to continue to provide excellent library service to everyone in this community," Johnson said, WAPT reported.

In the midst of the situation, the Madison County Library System released a statement on the "freedom of information" Wednesday, saying censorship "has no place" in the library system.

"Our books are not only a mirror to reflect our community but a window into different worlds and different experiences that enable us to learn," the library system said in the statement.

Book Banned Under Hungary's Anti-LGBT Law
A Mississippi mayor isn't releasing funds to a library until LGBTQ books are removed. Above, a woman looks inside the storybook "Wonderland is for Everyone" at a bookstore on June 23, 2021, in Budapest, Hungary. The book was banned for promoting homosexuality to minors under a new law. Janos Kummer/Getty Images