Recently the MLIS program at UCLA hosted a talk by Loretta Gaffney on the development of Family Friendly Libraries. Although librarians tend to be wary of movements to limit access to information in any capacity, Gaffney gave a very even-handed talk on the rhetoric and concerns of FFL. If you weren’t aware, this organization was founded in 1992 by Karen Jo Gounaud, a mother in Fairfax County, Virginia. Gounaud was concerned about the placement of a LGBT magazine, “The Washington Blade,” in a high-traffic area of the local library. The FFL website, however, attributes her burgeoning activism to concern about “age-inappropriate materials” and “Internet pornography.” This type of subtly manipulative language is typical of FFL rhetoric, which attempts to equate “family” with “heterosexual couples with children.” By extension, they are implying that LGBT reading materials and individuals are somehow disconnected from family units, and, even more maliciously, that LGBT concepts are deliberately harmful to children.
As Gaffney pointed out in her talk, groups like the FFL often argue that they should be allowed to air their views if freedom of speech is truly something we support. That is, the public should hear both “pro-family” and progressive views on this debate. However, many people would argue that the removal or seclusion of LGBT materials is not freedom of expression, but rather prejudice; that the placement of anti-gay reading materials, for which Gounaud and the FFL successfully lobbied in Fairfax County, doesn’t count so much as free speech as hate speech.
This isn’t to say that parents don’t have the right to instill particular values in their children. However, mothers and fathers should have enough confidence in their own parenting that exposure to different views won’t undermine their kids’ beliefs. Furthermore, if parents are concerned about what their children see at the library, or what they might be checking out (another hot topic for the FFL), they should make it a priority to accompany their kids to the library and/or discuss what they’re reading. Protecting and educating your children doesn’t have to mean censorship for the wider public.