Wyoming librarian fired for opposing efforts to ban LGBTQ+ books

According to the American Library Association, 2023 was a record year for people trying to remove certain books from library shelves across the country.

GILLETTE, Wyo. – A former library director from Wyoming is out of a job, and she says it’s because she opposed book bans.

According to the American Library Association, 2023 was a record year for efforts to remove certain books from library shelves across the country. Many of the books are written by or about LGBTQ+ people or people of color. In Gillette, Wyoming, the Campbell County Public Library System (CCPLS) saw an increase in book challenges.

Terri Lesley worked for the Campbell County Library for 27 years, including 11 years as the library’s executive director. After the library made a Facebook post in July 2021 with book suggestions for Pride Month, a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment resulted in an effort to remove certain titles from the shelves.

Lesley said the 2021 post resulted in an unexpected series of events.

“It was anger. It was public meetings, people talking about the books,” Lesley said from her home in Gillette. “It’s quite shocking because you work in a library, you help people, and they love you, and they all thank you, and I think it’s almost magical, how they connect you with what they need and want , and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, that people are angry with you and go on the attack.”

In the months that followed that first Pride post, 57 challenges were submitted against 29 titles – that was up from zero book challenges the year before the controversy began. Many of the books were based on sex education for teens or on LGBTQ+ topics.

The controversy led to monthly meetings with the Campbell County Public Library System Board of Trustees, culminating in hours of complaints and individuals questioning Lesley’s actions. She said a group of people had organized to target her and the library over its LGBTQ+ books.

“It was like every other minute they were calling it pornographic and they were exposing children to pornography and obscenity,” said Iris Halpern, Lesley’s Denver attorney. “They try to put so much pressure on these librarians that eventually these libraries either give up and take the books away, or they are terminated because they refuse to do so. But it’s a political process at this point, right? It is becoming highly politicized. ”

During the first year of the book challenges, the library board supported her decision to keep the sex education and LGBTQ+ books.

Initially, the library board supported Lesley’s decision to keep sex education and LGBTQ+ books on the shelves. The following year, four new board members were appointed.

“And they had a different idea than what should be in the library,” Lesley explained.

In July 2023, the board voted to dismiss Lesley at a public meeting. Lesley spoke just before the vote, knowing what was coming.

“For 25 years this was my dream job and the last two years have been pure hell,” she said at that meeting. “And I don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.”

A crowd of people roared and applauded Lesley after her speech in 2023. She often said that the individuals who opposed the books and her actions were a small part of the Gillette community.

“It makes me a bit emotional, so it was great to get that support,” Lesley explained. “I could never have weathered this attack unless I had supporters who, like me, believe in the First Amendment, who understood its importance and felt like this was a cause worth fighting for because people understand in our community. .”

Lesley has since filed a complaint against the library board with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Her attorney said the board’s actions were inappropriate.

“I mean, it’s illegal. I mean, it’s unconstitutional – the problem is that no one is thinking about the constitutionality of the actions being taken in these campaigns to suppress speech,” said Halpern, Lesley’s attorney. “It doesn’t matter if it’s constitutional or not, there’s going to be some kind of fringe groups in the community that are going to target these librarians, people like Terri Lesley, until they eventually give in or get fired, regardless of whose rights are being violated. being trampled upon or the lives being ruined in the process.”

Lesley is currently unemployed. There are not many jobs available for a library director in a rural community. But she said what keeps her going is the support she continues to receive from the community.

“I think we tried everything,” said Jenny Sorenson, a friend of Lesley’s who attended rallies to support her.

The couple met at a local restaurant to reflect on the past two years.

“You’ve actually done a lot of good,” Lesley replied to Sorenson. “I couldn’t have made it without you. It’s been a life experience, that’s for sure.”

Lesley said she doesn’t regret her decision to stand up to the library board.

Her attorney said it could take up to two years for the EEOC to make a decision on the complaint. 9NEWS made multiple attempts to contact the board members but never received a response.

Lesley shared the list of titles challenged following the 2021 Pride Month post:

  • Questions about sex and growing upby Joanna Cole
  • The Babysitters Covenby Kate Williams
  • The black flamingoby Dean Atta
  • Dating and sexby Andrew Smiler
  • Desmond is greatby Desmond
  • Doing it! Let’s talk about sexby Hannah Witton
  • The gender identity workbook for childrenby Kelly Storck
  • Gender queerby Maia Kobabe
  • Heart stopperby Alice Oseman
  • Heather has two momsby Leslea Newman
  • How do you make a baby? by Anna Fiske
  • It’s not the stork! by Robie Harris
  • Jack (not Jackie)by Erica Silverman
  • Jane Against the World, by Karen Blumenthal
  • Lawn boyby Jonathan Evison
  • Maria wears what she wantsby Keith Negley
  • Meenaby Ine Van Mol
  • Music from another worldby Robin Talley
  • My body, my choiceby Robin Stevenson
  • Period powerby Nadya Okamoto
  • Quick and easy guide to queer and trans identitiesby G. Mady
  • A quick and easy guide to sex and disabilityby A. Andrews
  • Rainbow: a first book of prideby Michael Genhart
  • Sex is a funny wordby Cory Silverberg
  • Sex Plus: Learn, love and enjoy your bodyby Laci Green
  • This book is gayby Juno Dawson
  • Trans Mission – My search for a beardby A. Bertie
  • The V-word: true stories of first sexby Amber Keyser
  • You are youby Jonathan Branfman

In Colorado, Democratic lawmakers tried to push through a bill that would limit who can challenge the contents of school or public libraries and require unanimous approval from a school district committee before books are removed. The bill failed in the committee hearing, so it was shelved for a year.

> Read the full complaint to the EEOC:

More coverage of the book ban:



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