Amid a packed board meeting in Covington, Louisiana, an attendee holds a “We support our librarians” sign.

As LGBTQ book challenges rise, some Louisiana librarians are scared to go to work

COVINGTON, La. — Librarians in Louisiana are being targeted and facing harassment from conservative activists who want to ban or limit access to LGBTQ books in public libraries.

Ever since Amanda Jones, a middle school librarian, spoke out broadly against censorship over the summer, she has found herself in the crosshairs of an escalating, statewide campaign.

Conservative groups had begun to challenge specific books in her community, and Jones pushed back during a public board meeting in July, saying that everyone in town deserved to have access to information and see themselves reflected in the public library collection.

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“Just because you don’t want to read or see [a particular book], it does not give you the right to deny others or demand its relocation,” said Jones at the meeting. She is the president of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians and has worked as an educator and librarian in Livingston Parish, Louisiana, for more than two decades.

“Once you start relocating and banning one topic, it becomes a slippery slope, and where does it end?” she added. Since then, Jones said she has faced unrelenting attacks online, like falsely representing that she shares “sexually erotic and pornographic materials” with children as young as six and “advocat[es] teaching anal sex to 11 year olds,” according to a defamation lawsuit filed by Jones in August against the owners of two conservative Facebook groups. In court documents, Jones claimed she was cast “as a deviant and a danger to children.” The lawsuit was dismissed in September but Jones plans to appeal.


A Valentine’s Day Book display at the St. Tammany Parish Library shows the young adult section and reading area at the Covington, Louisiana branch. Photo by Roby Chavez/PBS NewsHour

Despite nationwide opinion polls showing parents are largely satisfied with their childrens’ education, efforts to ban or challenge books in schools and libraries surged last year, as a conservative political movement in the name of parents’ rights took aim at literature mostly focused on themes of race, gender, and LGBTQ issues.

The American Library Association, which annually tracks the number of book challenges, documented 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, 2022. About 1,650 unique titles were targeted during that time. The ALA said the latest figures were set to exceed last year’s totals.

In Louisiana, political figures like Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry have helped fuel tensions. Landry started encouraging state residents in December to report librarians, teachers, and other staffers via a tip line if they provide children with library materials that contain “extremely graphic sexual content.”

In that charged climate, some members of groups leading the book challenges and promoting censorship have been appointed to library boards and also made calls for local officials to defund libraries they say provide children access to dangerous materials. The groups have been vocal to support what they define as traditional Christian values in public institutions, and they’ve used law enforcement to quell any protests. Library patrons have called police on librarians they accused of harming children.

Jones took a sabbatical in January from her job as a librarian because of the heightened scrutiny. It’s been “very scary” to be a librarian at this moment, she said, to the point she was having panic attacks.


Nationally recognized “Librarian of the Year” Amanda Jones sued two conservative groups for defamation and harassment after she spoke against restrictions on library content in July. Photo courtesy of WAFB

“I am scared to go places in public. I fear for my safety,” she said. “I purchased a taser. I purchased pepper spray. I got additional security cameras around my home.”

Libraries under investigation

The battle around library content became even more heated in recent months when the state’s chief law enforcement officer announced his office had launched an investigation into Louisiana’s libraries. Landry claimed the effort found that some libraries in the state give children “unrestricted access to sexually explicit materials.”

Landry, who is also running for governor, said the state needs a law to restrict what minors can check out of public libraries. Flanked by state lawmakers and parents at a news conference earlier this month, the attorney general released a 54-page report called “Protecting Innocence,” that includes excerpts from several books Landry singled out, including those with LGBTQ themes.

“This is not about banning lifestyles or any other topic,” Landry said. “This doesn’t mean we are banning or censoring voices. It does mean that some books should be relocated away from small children.”

Lynette Mejia, co-founder of Louisiana Citizens Against Censorship, called the report “a waste of precious taxpayer dollars” and “political stunts by a candidate desperate to co-opt national culture wars for his own political benefit here at home.”

The ACLU of Louisiana blasted the report.

“Overbroad laws restricting free speech and the free exchange of ideas run contrary to the First Amendment,” Executive Director Alanah Odoms said in a statement. “It is not lost on anyone that the vast majority of titles and authors criticized by the Attorney General today are by and about people of color, women, and the LGBTQ+ community.”

Scrutiny of libraries, books, teaching materials and curriculum has become a central issue for conservative politicians around the nation. In Florida, the education department has launched a statewide effort to review reading materials provided to children in schools, following a law that went into effect last summer that can impose harsh penalties on any educators who provide books deemed inappropriate. Librarians in Missouri were forced to remove books from shelves under threat of criminal charges last fall. Virginia established a tip line encouraging parents to report teaching materials about critical race theory, but it quietly shut down the effort last year.

All of these efforts come at a time when voters say they don’t support banning books. In a poll run just before the midterm elections, 75 percent of voters said “preventing book banning” was an important consideration as they chose who to support. Only 8 percent of voters said they believe there are “many” books that should be banned.

In Louisiana, Landry’s report cited nine books that included what he called “sexually explicit materials” and were found “available to children in one or more public libraries,” but he did not name the libraries.

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The Louisiana Library Association issued a statement calling the allegations “untrue” and said the report “proposes a solution to a nonexistent problem. “Louisiana public libraries have policies and protections in place that enable parents to make good choices for their children.”

This is the second time Landry has stepped into the book ban battle. In December, he launched his “Protecting Minors” website asking the public to report what he calls “taxpayer-subsided sexualization of children.”

Landry has argued that taxpayers should not subsidize libraries and schools that have “licentious material” on their shelves.


Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry releases his “Protecting Innocence” report addressing content of books in public libraries following a six-month investigation. Landry called for legislation to restrict what children and teens can check out from public libraries. Photo courtesy of WAFB

In a December post on Facebook, he wrote, “Libraries should be safe places for kids to develop a lifelong love of reading, discover intellectual passions, and pursue dreams for a fulfilling career – not where they are exposed (or worse) to books that contain extremely graphic sexual content.”

Landry’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the PBS NewsHour.

Critics like Peyton Rose Michelle, executive director for Louisiana Trans Advocates who is the first openly transgender person to be elected to a political position in Louisiana, call the new tip line a “snitch line.”

She blasted Landry for “incredibly inflammatory rhetoric,” adding that the attorney general’s actions amounted to “government overreach of getting into our lives and telling us what we can and cannot do.”

Michelle, who sits on the Democratic State Central Committee, described how removing or banning books is dangerous, especially for trans youth who “need to know they belong.”

“In my trans youth or before I even knew what trans was … I just thought I was so far away from normal, that I was just wrong,” she said. “That is not good for a kid to think that they’re unsaveable.”

“When I saw my first trans book, it was just like completely breathtaking to see things being covered in a way that would have changed my life if I would have seen it at an earlier age.”

From quiet to chaos

Typically quiet libraries and board meetings have been transformed into anxiety-filled spaces in several parishes of the state, including those in Bossier, Livingston, Rapides, and Lafayette.

The majority of the book challenges across Louisiana last year focused on titles for children and young adults with LGBTQ themes, according to an analysis from the Louisiana Illuminator. Out of the state’s 64 parishes, only five reported receiving challenges last year.

The largest clash over books is centered in St. Tammany Parish, a suburb of New Orleans, where a growing list of more than 150 books is being challenged in a coordinated campaign to put pressure on the seven-member St. Tammany Library Board of Control.

Since August, the St. Tammany Parish Public Library has received 188 “statements of concern” about the 150 books.

About 80 percent of the 188 challenges the St. Tammany library received came from Connie Phillips, an organizer with the St. Tammany Parish Library Accountability Project Facebook group. While the group publicly states they are against book bans, some of the online submissions ask for the outright removal of the book. Many challenges did ask for books to be relocated.

Among the most challenged books is Maia Kobabe’s 2019 graphic memoir “Gender Queer,” which explores gender identity and sexuality. Kobabe, who is nonbinary, describes in the novel how discovering queer books at a library was affirming as a high schooler. It was the most challenged book in the nation in 2021, according to the ALA.

Phillips, in one of the four challenges the book received, argued that Kobabe’s novel contains sexually explicit content that violates state obscenity laws.


During a November presentation by the St. Tammany Library Accountability Project, a member displays several books the group has challenged. The group says the book are “sexually explicit and pornographic.” Photo courtesy of St. Tammany Parish Library Accountability Project

Kelly LaRocca, director of the St. Tammany Parish library system, has been a librarian for 17 years. She said the number of challenged books has exploded in recent months from a couple of complaints every few years.

Since the uproar over the summer, the St. Tammany library has started a costly 120-day review of the challenged books which will divert staff and resources. To date, none have been removed from circulation. However, until all the books are read and reviewed, access to the 150-plus books is limited, and they’re only available if requested.

LaRocca said the monthly public meetings are now boisterous with “passionate” groups demonstrating against censorship and others arguing some library content exposes children to pornographic material and diverse perspectives on race, gender and sexuality.

During a November presentation before the board, conservative groups presented a slide that read, “From kindergarten to college the library has an organized, tax-payer funded agenda to desensitize, brainwash, abuse, and groom your children.”

Anti-censorship and LGBTQ groups have organized a vocal response.

“It’s a dystopian nightmare. It’s just hatred of the queer community,” said Mel Manuel, spokesperson for the St. Tammany Library Alliance, of the repeated calls to remove books. The group formed in August after scrutiny of library books escalated. “I guess what surprised me is the intensity and also that it’s being backed by political figures.” Manuel sees the efforts to censor literature as part of a bigger, more dangerous social shift. “This is how it starts: You label someone the bad guy and add a scapegoat for all of your problems,” they said.

The St. Tammany Parish Library Accountability Project’s Facebook page describes itself as a group of parents and citizens from the parish who say they want more control over the library system. Some members want to create a separate community advisory board to review library book acquisitions and relocate disputed books to an area inaccessible to minors.

Local activists like Manuel said community boards aren’t qualified to decide whether or not books should be removed. They worry “it might not consist of a diverse group of residents who represent the parish as a whole,” adding that “book acquisition is the librarian’s job.”

In response to an increase in book challenges, the St. Tammany Parish Library implemented a new system in January. It changed its policy on materials that are challenged by making appeals to the library control board automatic and offered parents greater control over restrictions on their childrens’ library cards.

David Cougle, one of the Accountability Project’s administrators, would not agree to be interviewed but agreed to answer questions over email. He said one of the group’s goals is to keep children safe.

“People reasonably believe that libraries are a safe place for kids and others and not a place where children can be exposed to sexually explicit and pedophilic materials. However, that’s what is occurring, and that’s why we want to fix this,” said Cougle, who is also an attorney, in an emailed response.

The Accountability Project’s Facebook group, which has 890 followers and highlights materials it says are dangerous for children, also directs its criticism toward library officials. One Jan. 14 post reads, “The fact that the Saint Tammany Parish Library Administration is using literature to groom our children is incontrovertible. The question is, do we care?”

On Jan. 19, the group posted an image on Facebook with the definition of the word “groomer.” The post read, “See also: St. Tammany Parish Library Board and its Director, Kelly LaRocca.”

Critics like Manuel have chastised the group for making personal attacks on library staff and using the the term “groomer,” especially when referring to LaRocca.

“There are no librarians grooming kids, and there are no queer people in the library grooming children. I think it’s pretty clear that the books are not the problem,” said Manuel, who is a public school teacher and lifelong St. Tammany Parish resident. “What’s changed in my lifetime is that now we have a lot of books with queer content that I didn’t have when I was a kid. I think it’s really important that our kids now, our queer kids, can see themselves. It says you’re welcome here. You’re a part of this community, and there’s nothing wrong with you.”

Cougle denied that the group uses the term “groomer,” yet the posts were publicly visible on their Facebook page. As of the publishing of this article, the posts appear to have been edited.

“We don’t support applying labels or judgments to any groups or types of folks and we have done our best to avoid that,” Cougle wrote. “Sadly, citizens who have spoken out at public meetings about the issues with the library system have been called many vile names by library supporters.”

LaRocca defended her staff of 150 library workers at the parish’s 12 branch locations, especially after she said police were called by a patron reporting staff for library content. No one was arrested.

“This has been an experience that they never imagined they would be dealing with. It is unfair,” LaRocca said. “None of us are groomers or pedophiles or anything of the sort. It is very hard to see things like that said.”

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A library patron holds up the book “I am Jazz” at a December board meeting. The St. Tammany Parish Library board approved new cards for children in response to conservative groups challenging books with LGBTQ themes and sex education. Photo by Julie Dermansky/

Most of the 150 books in the complaints are not in the children’s section, according to data provided by the St. Tammany Parish Library. Twenty-five percent of books flagged for content are written for adults and are located in the adult section. Fifty-nine percent are written for teens, ages 12 to 17. Non-fiction books written for teens are shelved in the adult section but have the special designation “YA,” designating them for teens. Teen fiction is shelved in its own section. 14 percent of the books challenged are in the children’s section. Four of the books challenged are not in the library collection.

The St. Tammany Parish Library Accountability Project will seek help from state lawmakers and not support the renewal of an upcoming tax millage that funds the library, if members aren’t successful at the local level, Cougle said.

“Unless there is significant reform, we cannot support such a renewal when our tax dollars are used in defiance of the wishes of the residents of the parish, and to target our kids,” he said.

Stacking the board

Elsewhere in the state, the unrest over LGBTQ issues at libraries has reached a boiling point. In Lafayette Parish, tempers flared over a Draq Queen Story Time event at the Lafayette Public Library in 2018. Since then, at least three people opposed to the story time events were appointed to the Lafayette Parish Library Board of Control.

One member, Robert Judge, who was elected board president in October, has arranged for two armed Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s deputies to flank the board during meetings, which have been contentious for months.

Last February, Judge had Matthew Humphrey, an LGBTQ advocate and Drag Queen Story Time organizer, arrested for speaking out of order during the meeting.

”Robert Judge is weaponizing law enforcement to silence minority voices and will stop at nothing if we don’t fight back,” Humphrey said.

Nearly a year later, Melanie Brevis, a mother who accused the board of “hateful and prejudicial actions” was abruptly silenced and then removed by two deputies.

Judge continues to enforce new rules he enacted last year that prohibit residents from directly addressing or criticizing board members while also posting a sign outside the meeting room door defining disturbing the peace law.

“The people of this community have a right to expect that public meetings will be able to be held on their behalf in a civil manner,” Judge wrote in a statement. “The presiders of these meetings have a duty to maintain order in these meetings.”

During the meeting, board policy attorney Paige Beyt said the new rules have a background in state law and “allows for no debate or confrontation with the board.”

“When conduct rises to the level where it’s interfering with business, boards are allowed to make rules for the efficient conducting of business,” she said.

Brevis, who has moved from the role of “mom” to concerned citizen to community activist in the last few years, is stunned at the one-sided efforts to limit debate from opponents.

“It was definitely unnerving, which I believe was the board’s purpose. The other scary thing is that these deputies could not tell me why I was being escorted out,” Brevis said. “I was not saying anything hateful or making any threats. I don’t wanna sound too dramatic by calling it a police state, but it’s definitely not a free society.”

Brevis said it’s all part of a far-right and religious effort to take over library boards at a time when the board is being asked to consider banning books and videos about LGBTQ issues and with sexual content.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ve even seen the boiling point yet,” Brevis said.

For LaRocca, “a book can give you a window on the world from a very safe place.” But in Louisiana, the battle over books rages on and librarians feel targeted in their quiet space.