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LGBTIQ Library Issues: Gender and Sexual Orientation

posted Jul 20, 2017, 1:37 PM by Tyler Wilmoth
First, I want to quote the Kottak text in chapter 9 as it defines gender: “Gender refers to the behaviors and meanings that societies assign to males and females, based on perceived distinctions linked to sex or anatomy. However, we also know that gender also is shaped by historical, environmental, economic, political, and cultural forces.”

The idea of gender is a social construct that is implanted in our brains from a very early age. These constructs often dictate how we act in society and how many of us react to different individuals when working with the public. I think I have said this in almost every blog post this semester (or some semblance thereof), but libraries are meant to be a safe-haven and informational resource for EVERYONE, including all genders and sexual orientations.  

I feel that we live in a society that places lots of emphasis on gender and does not treat everyone fairly. 

Have you ever witnessed someone or have you personally been treated unfairly because of gender/sexual orientation? Does this happen in libraries?

As a side note, I think it’s interesting that in Kottak, in the chapter about sexual orientation, there is a picture of what appears to be a heterosexual couple as an example of public displays of affection. While heterosexuality is indeed a sexual orientation, I would personally have chosen a homosexual couple for the picture. I think the presence of this picture further proves that LGBTIQ individuals need more visibility.

Take a look at the referenced picture on page 169 in the text. Do you think this is an appropriate display of affection for a public setting such as a library? If so, would you feel differently if it were a homosexual couple?

A large part of promoting diversity, especially when it comes to inclusion of the LGBTIQ community, must start with examining your own thoughts on the subject. If you want to promote inclusivity and diversity in your library (and you should) you must be willing to go the extra mile and bring visibility to these marginalized groups.

In James Carmichael Jr.’s book Daring to Find Our Names, he discusses one of the jobs of librarians as being “cultural enforcers and preservers.” I think this is a true statement as of course we preserve books, but as I stated earlier it is our job to promote the research and study of many different cultures and populations. In order to do this, we have to make sure that everyone is welcome in the library without fear of discrimination and achieving this requires reaching out to underserved populations, in this case the LGBTIQ community.

Something else Carmichael discusses is being publicly “out.” I don’t know any LGBTIQ individual that believes coming out is easy. Yes, it gets easier over time and with every person you tell. But it is still difficult. You don’t know how people are going to react and I do think that in some situations it is not safe to come out, so it’s something you have to be careful about. You have times where you feel fake and you feel so distant from everyone because you are quite honestly scared for your life. As librarians, we are a resource for people and no one should feel uncomfortable approaching us about any subject (this is even part of the RUSA standards anyway!). As stated in the Schrader article, LGBTIQ inclusivity should not simply be practice, but it should be made policy to ensure protection of this marginalized population.

In the book Gay and Lesbian Library Service, chapter 9 is about making the library more user-friendly for gay and lesbian patrons. The very first topic in this chapter is “Educating your colleagues.” Many people, especially in the South, have grown up in families that look negatively upon the LGBTIQ community (myself included). With that being the case, it is up to us to educate our colleagues and peers on LGBTIQ issues, current events, and progress. This is the first step to increasing visibility for this community in the library as the people that work there need not only to be “on board” but need to be knowledgeable about these sensitive issues.

How well do you think your peers at your workplace deal with LGBTIQ issues? Is it something promoted? Is it discussed at all? Is it discussed in a negative way? If so, what could you do to change it?

Promotion and awareness of LGBTQ issues in each and every campus and community is important to change the ideas of those people and groups who think less of or look down upon LGBTQ individuals. As library and information science professionals, we have a unique position that allows us to promote these issues community and even worldwide in order to gain acceptance and understanding on behalf of our patrons in the LGBTQ community (Mehra & Braquet, 2007). Libraries are the only source of information on these subjects for some people—kids, teenagers, and adults alike. We have to make sure we have substantial materials on LGBTIQ subjects and that our libraries are a place of inclusivity.

Carmichael, James V., Jr. (1998). Daring to find our names: The search for lesbigay library history. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.

Gough, C., & Greenblatt, E. (1990). Gay and lesbian library service. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland.

Kottak, C. P., & Kozaitis, K. A. (2012). On being different: diversity and multiculturalism in the north american mainstream. New York, NY: Mcgraw-Hill.

Mehra, B., & Braquet, D. (2007). Library and Information Science Professionals as Community Action Researchers in an Academic Setting: Top Ten Directions to Further Institutional Change for People of Diverse Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities. Library Trends, 56(2), 542-565.

Schrader, A. M. (2009). Challenging silence, challenging censorship, building resilience: LGBTQ services and collections in public, school and post-secondary libraries. Feliciter, 55(3), 107.