Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong — like something about you wasn’t right, or didn’t meet the expectations of others — and can you remember how that felt? What about when you were welcomed — when someone told you, "Hey, the way you are is A-ok" — and you got to take a break from fruitlessly trying to alter yourself to be loved?
Many of the teens and tweens walking into libraries this summer don’t feel safe or accepted at home or school. They may not feel all that welcomed or safe in the world-at-large right now. We’ve promised them that It Gets Better, and I sincerely hope that to be true on a larger scale. For now, we’re doing our part to make the world a more welcoming place for LGBTQ+ youth, starting at their neighborhood library.
Flags, in their most well-intended guise, fly to signal belonging. If you notice a rainbow flag or a selection of picture books for Pride Month, just consider it a big old welcome sign to a group that is sorely in need. It does not mean that others are not welcome if they have different beliefs. Instead, it means the views of any one individual will not be allowed to curtail the rights, freedoms, and dignity that all people deserve, at least not at the Free Library. Here, we honor diverse ways of being and thinking, and we hope to foster new ideas.
The mission of the Free Library of Philadelphia is to advance literacy, guide learning, and inspire curiosity. Its vision is to build an enlightened community devoted to lifelong learning. The Free Library of Philadelphia is a welcoming and inclusive public space and strongly believes in promoting understanding and community engagement.
The library exists to provide opportunities for discussion supported by educational resources, access to a vast array of information, and ideas that transform communities, open minds, and promote inclusion. We are a safe haven for people of diverse backgrounds, and we work to protect their Freedom to Read, to learn, and to be.
Book-banning and educational restrictions around the country, which erase racial injustice as well as LGBTQ+ identity from learning environments, have further curtailed both intellectual freedom and acceptance in the classroom and made LGBTQ+ youth of color particularly vulnerable. Additional rules in many states now prevent kids from accessing safe and comfortable restrooms, from participating in sports, and even from maintaining the privacy that may be necessary for their safety, as in a recent mandate that requires teachers to “out” LGBTQ+ students to their family members.
According to a 2018 Human Rights Campaign survey, approximately 75% of LGBTQ+ Youth do not feel that they can “definitely” be themselves at either home or school. The vast majority have received verbal threats or experienced bullying related to their identity at school, and have reported unwanted sexual comments, jokes, or gestures in the past year. In the wake of so much recent anti-LGBTQ legislation, including the criminalization of best practices medical care, it is likely that these numbers have increased. The ACLU is currently tracking over 400 anti-LGBTQ bills in the United States, many of them targeting trans youth. The HRC recently declared a state of emergency, saying LGBTQ people in the United States are under attack and providing a Guidebook for Action to affected families and allies.
But as many of us know in our hearts, libraries can and do make a difference to those they welcome every day. Rather than promoting an agenda, we are merely saying, you are fine just the way you are, you matter and deserve respect, and you are safe and welcome here. We work to ensure that it gets better when you walk through these doors.
We aspire to keep on learning and to make room for everyone. In that spirit, join us as the Free Library celebrates Pride Month with all-ages events and an updated LGBTQ+ Explore page, where you can find local organizations, resources pertaining to health, activism, bullying, LGBTQ+ youth, and legal support, blog posts on topics related to the LGBTQ+ community, and more. Sign up for the Summer of Wonder online to join our virtual Pride Month Activity Adventure, available during the month of June.
Every June the Free Library celebrates LGBTQIA+ Pride Month. The Free Library aims to be a place where everyone belongs. We value the LGBTQIA+ community, including transgender people and transgender youth, as one of many valued communities we serve in Philadelphia. We uphold our commitment to providing services, programming, and materials to the LGBTQIA+ community, including transgender youth and adults — and to providing a safe space for transgender patrons and staff as we aim to provide for all patrons and staff.