Several hundred protesters gathered outside Cranston’s William Hall Library Monday preceding a 6:30 p.m. panel discussion on gender ideology that would take place inside the library’s …
Several hundred protesters gathered outside Cranston’s William Hall Library Monday preceding a 6:30 p.m. panel discussion on gender ideology that would take place inside the library’s meeting space. The event, hosted by Providence’s Independent Women’s Network, included an hour and a half panel discussion on what kids learn about gender in schools.
Since Friday, protesters have called for Cranston Public Library to cancel the event – claiming the discussion promotes hate speech and is anti-trans. The event’s guest speakers included Nicole Solas, Candice Jackson and featured speaker Chris Elston. On the flyer for the event, Elston – also known as Billboard Chris – is featured wearing a billboard reading “dad /dad/ noun. A human male who protects his kids from gender ideology.”
Via his website, Elston warns people of “puberty blockers” saying “they are prescribed to healthy children as young as 10 years old who present with a condition known as gender dysphoria, a feeling that they want to be the other gender.” The website goes on to say that “children should be free to be who they are – not indoctrinated to believe they were born in the wrong body.” His website includes examples of lesson plans taught within the education system that claim to indoctrinate children.
The library released a statement Monday saying it’s been a longstanding practice to allow private groups to book and use library meeting spaces and – after consulting with the city’s legal counsel and the board of trustees – CPL decided not to cancel the event.
“We deeply understand and appreciate the concerns and strong sentiments of all those in the community who have reached out to the library about this event,” the library formally announced via its website.
CPL said the event was not sponsored or endorsed by the library or the City of Cranston.
The library also cited that according to the American Library Association, “publicly funded libraries are not obligated to provide meeting room space to the public. If libraries choose to do so, such spaces are considered designated public forums, and legal precedent holds that libraries may not exclude any group based on the subject matter to be discussed or the ideas for which the group advocates.” The library’s meeting room policy states that “meeting rooms are available to civic, cultural, and educational organizations and are available regardless of the beliefs and affiliations of their members.
“As the meeting is not a library-initiated program but rather a private room booking, the library had no part in the content or featured speakers, nor were we informed about the speakers for this event. The library did not promote this meeting in any way,” the library wrote Monday.
Ally Quintanilla, who works for the Cranston Public Library, was among those protesting outside William Hall Library with a ‘We see you, we love you’ sign. From the first call Quintanilla received at the library on Friday, she knew she would be outside William Hall Library on Monday. While the library received many calls from the public, she said one of the hardest things was listening to people’s stories and knowing not a lot could be done.
Susan Hodgin, who worked as a teacher for 30 years, stood side by side with protesters holding a sign supporting the transgender community.
“I believe it’s important to protect kids’ rights and mental health, and I don’t think schools indoctrinate people,” said Hodgin.
William Hall Library, which normally closes at 8 p.m. on Mondays, closed its doors at 5 p.m. Cranston Police stood around the building and escorted event attendees inside. Only those who had already RSVP'd to the Independent Women’s Network’s private event were allowed in. Protesters held their own panel outside with folks from the transgender community as well as allies.
Providence resident Damian Lima, who was part of the protester’s panel, shared that studies have shown that acceptance of a transgender child can decrease depression, homelessness and HIV. He cited the group inside for spreading misinformation. Providence’s Jaye Watts added that the library is a place where people feel safe.
“We know how often it is that queer kids seek out the library as their sanctuary,” said Watts. “And this space is sending the message that this is not a safe place for them.”
He said that as a young transgender kid looking for support, the medical care he received saved his life.
State Representative Brandon Potter was among the crowd of those supporting the transgender community and said it was important to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community. He doesn’t believe the library should have canceled the event; he added that the best way to combat hateful speech is by letting individuals show it for what it is.
Ward 1 Councilwoman Lammis Vargas – whose ward the William Hall Library falls into and who has been an advocate for pride flag raisings within the city – was deeply upset.
“This type of propaganda marginalizing and targeting communities will not be accepted here in Cranston,” said Vargas.
The Phoenix Rising Centers, an LGBTQIA2S+ and BIPOC oriented mental health care organization, released a statement Monday afternoon about the library’s decision, stating that some studies estimate that 4.5 percent of Rhode Island’s population are members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
The group added that recent studies show that 78 percent of transgender youth in public school face severe and harsh harassment due to their gender identity, 35 percent of transgender youth have been the victims of physical violence in schools due to their gender identity, and 12 percent of transgender youth have been sexually assaulted while in the custody of Rhode Island schools. Fifty-four percent of transgender students will seriously contemplate suicide before the age of 18, with 29 percent of transgender youth will make an attempt.
Meg Potter, a resident who lives on the Cranston/Warwick line, agreed with the library’s decision. Potter decided to attend the event after hearing that people asked the library to cancel the event because they objected to the event’s content. She added that an event should be canceled if law enforcement had a host of concerns; because the group was meeting peacefully and did not have an intention of getting violent, they should be allowed to meet.
Steven Brown, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote Library Director Ed Garcia Monday in support of the institution’s decision.
“The message of this group deserves condemnation, but silencing their speech is, ultimately, a dangerous and counter-productive way to respond,” wrote Brown.
He noted that serious First Amendment concerns would be raised by denying an individual or organization the ability to use library meeting space solely because of the content of their views.
“As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote almost a century ago: ‘If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought – not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate’,” Brown wrote.