After young teens and their families were met with anti-LGBTQ protesters as they entered the Post Falls Library for a friendly gathering in November, local organizations are looking for ways to shield students from such elements of Idaho’s social and political climate.
The Rainbow Squad is a monthly program hosted by the Community Library Network that looks to engage youth in books written by LGBTQ authors, along with arts and craft activities. Kristin Killingworth and her 13-year-old, Kaiya, saw protesters outside of the library.
“We did not expect them to be at this meeting, but as soon as we pulled up we saw a bunch of people holding signs of ‘Turning away from sin,’ ‘Jesus loves you,’ ‘Repent or go to hell,’” Killingsworth said. “The librarians were at the door and some of the people were yelling things.”
Killingsworth said she yelled back, saying they should be ashamed for their words regarding a young group.
“That’s not what the Bible teaches,” she told them.
The CLN serves most of Kootenai County, except Coeur d’Alene, which has its own library district. Amy Rodda has been the CLN director since June. Concerns surrounding Rainbow Squad were brought to her attention as soon as she started, but rumors of an actual protest against the Rainbow Squad had been swirling since early October.
Those concerns took center stage during an Oct. 25 special meeting of the library board. According to Rodda, around 50 people attended the meeting.
“Some of the concerns were about the content of the Rainbow Squad and if it’s the library’s role to offer something like that,” Rodda said. “People expressed support and opposition to the LGBTQ programs and materials, and that’s where the public spotlight came from.”
Jessica Mahuron, the outreach coordinator for the North Idaho Pride Alliance, spoke at the meeting in support of the program, noting that counselors, parents and allies look to the Rainbow Squad as a way to support LGBTQ children. Mahuron called community libraries one of the Pride Alliance’s most “valued partners.”
“So many of our (LGBTQ) youth do not feel safe in our schools, they do not feel safe in their homes, and having that safe space and accepting adults is what prevents people from committing suicide,” Mahuron said in her public comment, which was recorded.
With LGBTQ books already in the library, the monthly cost of arts and crafts materials for the Rainbow Squad is about $20. Mahuron said libraries fill a huge need, and people often don’t realize how inexpensive programs like the Rainbow Squad are.
“All (Rainbow Squad) is providing is a safe space,” Mahuron said.
On Nov. 20, protesters stood outside of the Post Falls library ahead of the Rainbow Squad meeting. Body camera footage from Post Falls Police Department officer Kellsey Torres shows the protesters holding signs saying “Flee the Sexual Immorality.” Pastor Steven Hemming, of Family Worship Center in Hayden, wrote an opinion piece in the Coeur d’Alene Press in response to coverage of the protest in which he claimed responsibility and confirmed that “a lot of people present at the library that night are part of my congregation.”
“In other parts of our country the exploitation and sexualization of our children has come to a place where it is a losing battle with things like ‘drag queen story hour’ and other agendas to make immorality a fashion campaign for our future generations and completely destroy the family unit that God intended to thrive and prosper with His blessing,” he wrote.
He continued: “I, myself, and many, many others in our community are now aware of who we have on the library network board and who makes these decisions for our community. If the community does not want these things taking place in our libraries, then why are they happening?”
Hemming did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Rodda called the demonstration disappointing, saying protesters should direct their energy toward library administration, not “teens and parents who are coming to a program that is a safe space for them.”
“People have the right to assemble and protest, certainly, but personally I’d prefer to have (protesters) come to our board meetings, email or call and do that in that nature so our admin and board can have those conversations,” Rodda said.
On Facebook, a person posting under the name “Bear Bear” called for members of the Panhandle Patriots and other North Idaho anti-LGBTQ activists to attend the library board meeting Thursday afternoon. They called for the libraries to be “called out and cast out.”
“We need people to show up and speak out (and) demand the removal of pro-LGBT books like the following,” the post reads, before linking to list that includes “Heather Has Two Mommies” and “Be Amazing: A History of Pride.”
LGBTQ allies have also asked their supporters to attend the meeting. Mahuron said she hopes that local advocates will “sign up to speak and arrive early and be safe and make signs of support.”
Mahuron discussed the traumatic, long-term effects of LGBTQ children being exposed to protests like the one outside of the library.
“I think it’s hard for me to say how each person feels, but it does make you feel that you do not belong,” Mahuron said. “Telling children, ‘You are an abomination,’ instills that toxic shame into someone, a growing person. I think we all know there’s a lot of trauma that is there between the LGBTQ community and often religion when it’s used as a weapon.”
Killingsworth said that since moving back to her hometown of Post Falls in 2016, the political climate has grown more heated.
“I feel like it’s brought out people on opposite spectrums that are extremely vocal and hateful for anyone that has a different ideology and perspective from them,” Killingsworth said.
Her oldest daughter started attending library teen programs in 2019, and Killingsworth attended some of the events that welcomed parents. This was the first time she encountered a protest at a library, and she said the atmosphere was tense.
“If I turn around and leave – they’re winning,” she said.
Some protesters, she said, were telling the Rainbow Squad attendees “Don’t turn away from God.”
According to Killingsworth, the parents and children who attended focused on ensuring the children’s mental health and safety while also letting them know the protesters aren’t the majority.
“As bad as the situation was, it got us to the conversation of sharing past incidents and what library laws and Idaho laws can do to combat this with a focus on spouting intolerance and hate speech,” Killingsworth said.
Her daughter, Kaiya, attends Rainbow Squad meetings as an ally. With in-person meetings permitted again, she was excited to attend. Instead of doing the arts and crafts activities in the teens’ section, Kaiya said she and other attendees discussed how anti-LGBTQ protesters affect their everyday lives.
“It kinda opened my eyes a little more to see how many people … dislike the rainbow community,” she said of the protesters. “I’ve heard stories about so many different things about the Rainbow Squad. It has helped me connect to rainbow people and gotten to know them better, especially who they are as a person, and helps me accept and understand people as they are and accept them for who they are.”
Mahuron looks to host a peacekeeping and advocacy training in January for those who wish to counter the protests.
“I’ve had many contacts with people about their ideas,” she said, “and I think we’re on the right track.”