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Local author's book among those targeted at Samuels Public Library

"The Truth Is," by NoNieqa Ramos, sits atop some of the books that were requested for removal from Samuels Public Library because of LGBTQ content.
Randi B. Hagi
"The Truth Is," by NoNieqa Ramos, sits atop some of the books that were requested for removal from Samuels Public Library because of LGBTQ content.

The battle over LGBTQ books at the Samuels Public Library in Front Royal concluded last month with the library regaining full funding. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reviewed the would-be book banners' complaints and spoke with one of the targeted authors.

Two massive waves of book removal requests crashed down on Samuels Public Library in May and July. Ninety-one people under the moniker "Clean Up Samuels," many of whom were affiliated with a local Catholic church and Christendom College, as the Washington Post reported, bombarded the library with more than 800 requests to jettison 141 books.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors withheld three-quarters of the library's operating funds for part of the summer and fall. They reached an agreement with library leaders in early October. The library didn't get rid of any books, but did move some to a "new adult" section for patrons who are 16 and older. The director resigned amidst the conflict.

I read through the removal requests to try and understand the group's objections. Some of them took specific issue with intimate scenes between queer characters in young adult romance novels. Many openly expressed their view that literature should never contain positive portrayals of characters who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. They repeated buzzwords such as "grooming," "sexual agenda," and "pornographic." Less than three percent of them actually read the entire book they wanted removed.

I was also curious to see if the group, as conservative Christians, had asked for any books with straight sexual content to be removed. I know I wasn't the only teen in my Christian high school who had a few favorite passages in a certain Celtic fiction series. Of the 800-plus removal requests, only one of them had a problem with a straight sex scene.

The Northern Virginia Daily reported the campaign cost the library about $100,000 in attorneys' and public relations fees and staff labor hours.

The title most requested for removal, by 11 different people, was "Cheer Up: Love & Pompoms" by Crystal Frasier. I read it in its entirety along with four other of the most contested tomes. "Cheer Up" is a young adult graphic novel in which two high school girls, one of whom is trans, make friends and learn to be themselves on the cheerleading squad. They kiss a couple times.

"It's Perfectly Normal" is aimed at kids aged 10 and up. It answers questions about sex and puberty, and includes a few examples of same-sex couples. It encourages kids to ask further questions to their parents or other trusted relatives, and explains that some religious groups have objections to things like abortion.

NoNieqa Ramos is an educator and author of picture books and young adult fiction.
Joe Fitzgerald
NoNieqa Ramos is an educator and author of picture books and young adult fiction.

"The Truth Is" is a young adult novel written by local author NoNieqa Ramos, who sat down with me in the studio to discuss their work and book bans. This title came out in 2019 and got accolades from the Bustle Book Club and Hip Latina.

NONIEQA RAMOS: Verdad is a 15-year-old child. She is, in the beginning of the book, exploring her own identity and dealing with the grief of losing someone to gun violence. … In this particular book, they are going to be confronting their own racial biases, internalized homophobia, on their journey, and also a big crush. And so, with this crush, they're also kind of processing what it means when they have a crush on a trans person. … So this passage is right after Verdad has gone to speak to a priest, and she's processed what the priest has told her about making decisions.

Here, Ramos reads from the book.

RAMOS: [reading from book] "Like Father said, it all comes down to decisions. My mother decided to not trust my judgment. Decided who I should be, and who I should love. My mother decided I'm not good. Funny how homophobic people think being gay or transgender leads to misery but never consider that they're the ones who cause it."

I found this story to be a captivating read as Verdad grapples with understanding herself, supporting her peers in the face of injustice, and catching feelings for the androgynous, enigmatic Danny.

Ramos said that the book banners have targeted "The Truth Is" because it's about a transgender person and someone questioning their gender identity. But, they added, when censors go after stories by and about queer people and people of color, they are, in effect, trying to erase them. Ramos wants children's bookshelves to reflect the actual diversity of the world we live in.

RAMOS: We fought for the power, the privilege, the gift of going into a free public library and being able to search for books on any topic and to be able to read them without oppression. … We are absolutely waving our cultural flags. We're waving our flags of whatever particular identity – for me, it would be a genderfluid flag. We're waving the flags of this country – America. They're all our flags.

"The Truth Is" has gotten the most feedback of all Ramos's books from kids thankful to have read it. That's one of their motivations to stay resilient and keep writing. And to those kids, they say –

RAMOS: We will never invalidate what you're experiencing. But hold on. … If you're going through struggle, there's light. … Even though it may seem like right now, everything is lonely, and everything is isolating, and you're not being understood … we are there for you.

Ramos's next book is "Best Believe: The Tres Hermanas, a Sisterhood for the Common Good," a biography about three Puerto Rican pioneers and activists in the Bronx. It comes out in February.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.