Citizens rally around library books on gays after pastor takes stand

Friday, May 22, 1998

WICHITA FALLS, Texas — Instead of ridding public library shelves of Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate, a Baptist minister’s protest will end up putting more copies in circulation.

Robert Jeffress, pastor of the 4,400-member First Baptist Church, was shocked when he learned that the Wichita Falls library was lending the books about children with homosexual parents. When a church member checked out the books and brought them to Jeffress, he wrote a check for $54 to the library after vowing never to return them.

But so many people wanted to read the books after publicity in the Wichita Falls Times Record News that library administrator Linda Hughes is having to apply library guidelines designed to limit how long patrons have to wait. The policy calls for obtaining more copies when six or more people are waiting for a book.

“We have 10 holds on each one of these books,” Hughes said Thursday. “We are past the point at which we would have to buy more copies and we’re getting more requests.”

Sympathetic book lovers had donated 15 copies by Thursday morning, she said.

“I’ve been getting them in the mail and through the drop box,” Hughes said. “Most of them are brand-new.”

Jeffress said he finds no irony in the situation and defends his decision to object to materials originally bought with public money.

“We wanted to highlight the problem in our community,” Jeffress said. “I really hope people will look at the book and see what their tax dollars are supporting.”

He compared his effort with proposals to protect children from tobacco advertising, saying homosexuality “is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands every year through AIDS.”

Jeffress said he and other pastors will press the city council this summer to order the library to remove the books or at least put them behind the counter, where only adults could ask for them.

Heather Has Two Mommies features a girl who has two lesbian mothers. Daddy’s Roommate tells the story of a boy whose father is gay and lives with a boyfriend.

Both sides say they’ve received a groundswell of support.

Jeffress said his mail is “100 percent in support of what we are doing.”

Hughes, the library administrator, said she has received about 35 letters, “about 9-to-1 in favor of keeping the books.”

“It’s not necessarily the book as much as it is books in general,” Hughes said. “They don’t want anyone sweeping in and removing the books from the shelves. It’s more of an anti-censorship statement.”

The library board of directors will meet next week and may recommend whether to keep the books on the shelves, but the final decision rests with Hughes, who said she hasn’t made up her mind.

Nobody will be able to check the new books out until at least June 8 because the library is closed as it moves into a new, larger building.