Wilmette, News

Library’s gender-focused programming receives community support

Wilmette residents rallied to support their local library after one of its upcoming events drew the ire of a small segment of the community and caught the attention of a conservative media outlet.

Approximately two dozen Wilmette residents attended the Library Board’s Tuesday, April 16 meeting to praise the institution for its role in the community and applaud it for its upcoming programming. 

Community members showcased their enthusiasm for an upcoming pair of events that are part of the Wimette library’s Let’s Learn Together series. 

Anthony Auston, executive director of the Wilmette Library, told The Record via email after the meeting that the series “aims to foster belonging and understanding, and to empower individual growth.”

He also added that the series provides a “practical framework for engaging in complex topics” and the library’s programming as part of the series last year focused on race, while this year explores gender, per Auston. 

“As more people are adopting pronoun usage as part of a personal and/or professional commitment to treating people how they want to be treated, learning about gender identities is an increasingly important part of common courtesy in our society,” Auston said. 

“Simply put, it’s about respect and dignity. It’s a basic skill that we can all use to be kind, welcoming, and hold space for others in our community. Pronouns are one way language can be used to describe, and honor, a person’s identity.”

According to information published in the library’s newsletter, patrons of the series will expand their understanding of gender and learn the language needed to talk about it openly through literature, activities and expert presenters. The programs are aimed at adults, parents and educators. 

Auston also told The Record that the programs “are designed to help participants understand gender in context, learn the terminology to speak effectively about gender identity, and ultimately show up with kindness and respect for our neighbors.” 

The Let’s Learn Together programs are presented in collaboration with parent teacher associations of Wilmette School District 39, Auston noted.

We’re here to inspire lifelong curiosity, to encourage exploration of the world of ideas and culture, and promote discovery and the excitement of learning and growing together as a community.
Anthony Auston, Wilmette Public Library executive director

A pair of upcoming events that are part of the series are entitled Between the Lines. The first event, set for April 26, will feature the co-authors of “A Kids Book About Pronouns,” Dr. Courtney Well and Lee Wells, for an interactive program “about understanding gender identity and being an ally,” according to the library’s newsletter. 

The second event, “Using Kids Books to Learn About Pride,” will occur on May 17 and will allow patrons opportunities to learn about books and activities that will help them engage with kids about community, empathy and supporting one another. 

Prior to the April 16 meeting, the series received some criticism from a local conservative radio morning talk show on AM 560. Additionally, library officials were aware of some negativity expressed toward the programming on social media channels as well, per Auston. 

During the April 16 meeting, Auston encouraged locals to review the specifics about the content of the programming, adding that he believes “there is some confusion in the community about how the target audience is for this programming.”

“There appears to be a pattern of disinformation and deflection from those expressing negativity about the library’s mission-based programming efforts to support inclusivity,” Auston said in his follow-up email to The Record.

Auston told The Record that library staff members have “received remarkably positive feedback from the community,” regarding the Let’s Learn Together programming. Staff received 26 emails in support of the series and just one that expressed negativity toward it. 

The 26 comments were all from Wilmette residents while the one in opposition was from an Evanston resident, according to Auston, who noted that library staff received three negative phone calls as well. 

Commentary during the meeting on April 16 was unanimously in favor of the library as a whole and the upcoming programming. Ten Wilmette residents spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. 

Lorenza Amigo, a Wilmette resident and McKenzie Elementary School parent, told the board she attended the meeting to “express her enthusiastic support for the amazing programming we have been able to create in partnership with our local library.” 

“To be clear, every parent and child, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race or cultural background belongs here. The only thing that does not belong here is hate,” said Amigo, who is also part of the McKenzie PTA.

“I thank the Wilmette Public Library’s unwavering commitment to its mission and its values.”

Multiple public commenters also identified themselves as proud parents of children who are members of the LGBTQ community. They all expressed their support for the library and thanked it for offering programming like the Let’s Learn Together Series that allows a safe space for public conversation. 

In his follow-up email to The Record, Auston described the library as “the community’s living room, a place where everyone feels welcome.”

“We’re here to inspire lifelong curiosity, to encourage exploration of the world of ideas and culture, and promote discovery and the excitement of learning and growing together as a community,” he said.

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martin carlino
Martin Carlino

Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.

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