A new, highly concerning entry in the wave of classroom book bans sweeping the nation: Gene McGee, mayor of Ridgeland, Mississippi, is withholding $110,000 of funding from the Madison County Library System—funding already approved by the board of aldermen—until librarians remove “homosexual materials” from their shelves.
As the Mississippi Free Press reported this week, Tonja Jackson, Madison County Library System’s executive director, first reached out to McGee after failing to receive the city of Ridgeland’s first quarterly payment of 2022. In response, McGee said the libraries wouldn’t be receiving their funds. “[McGee] explained his opposition to ‘homosexual materials’ in the library, that it went against his Christian beliefs, and that he would not release the money as long as the materials were there,” Jackson told the Mississippi Free Press.
When Jackson explained to McGee that the library system is a public entity, not a religious institution, McGee told Jackson that “the library can serve whoever we wanted, but that he only serves the great Lord above.”
The books McGee wants to remove don’t just contain depictions of gay sex (which would also be anti-free speech and anti-LGBTQ+ to censor); he wants to remove any book even tangentially involving LGBTQ+ identity. For instance, in his conversation with Jackson, McGee specifically demanded the removal of The Queer Bible, a series of essays by well-known queer people on other queer figures like Susan Sontag and George Michael, and Granddad’s Camper, a book about a young girl learning about her late grandfather by taking a road trip with her surviving grandparent—written by Harry Woodgate, who is nonbinary.
The $110,000 represents around 5% of Madison County Library System’s annual budget; withholding the funds could cause staff members to lose their jobs.
When asked by the Mississippi Free Press if he possessed the authority to withhold the $110,000, McGee said, “That’s a legal question. I don’t know that I do or do not. But right now I’m holding the money.”
When asked if the mayor has legal authority to unilaterally override the contract with the library system, Bob Sanders, counsel for the library board, said, “Uh, no.”