In rare move, school librarian hits back in court against Tory activists

A Louisiana school librarian is suing two men for defamation after they accused her of advocating keeping ‘pornographic’ materials in the children’s section of the parish library. This is a rare example of an educator taking legal action against conservatives who use extreme rhetoric in their battle against LGBTQ-themed books.

Amanda Jones, a college librarian in Denham Springs, Louisiana, sued for defamation court case Wednesday, arguing that Facebook pages run by Michael Lunsford and Ryan Thames falsely labeled her a pedophile who wants to teach 11-year-olds about anal sex.

Jones, the president of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians, was alarmed and outraged by the verbal attacks, which came after she spoke out against censorship at a Parish Library Board of Control meeting. of Livingstone. She said she was suing the two men because she was exhausted by the insults hurled at educators and librarians over LGBTQ material.

“I’ve had enough for everyone,” Jones said in an interview. “No one is standing up to these people. They just say what they want and there are no repercussions and they ruin people’s reputations and there are no consequences.

Lunsford did not respond to requests for comment. Thames declined to comment.

Across the country, school districts were bombed by conservative activists and parents in the past year demanding that the books with sexual references or discussing racial conflict, often by authors of color or those who are LGBTQ, to be purged from campuses. These demands have slowly evolved to public libraries These last months.

Many conservative activists have called people who defend the books “groomerscomparing them to child molesters. The Proud Boys, an extremist hate group, burst into LGBTQ-themed reading events at several libraries, insisting that they must protect children. Some librarians said they no longer feel secure in their role.

Jones, the 2021 Louisiana Association of Computer-Using Educators Middle School Teacher of the Year and 2021 School library journal Librarian of the Year, said more than 200 librarians contacted her as the insults spread on Facebook. Many claimed to have experienced similar verbal and online abuse over the past two years. More than 600 people have donated a combined $20,000 for Jones on GoFundMe so she can respond with legal action.

The defamation suit seeks damages and asks a judge to issue a restraining order to prevent the two activists from speaking publicly about Jones. She also filed criminal complaints with the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office against the men. The sheriff’s office said the matter is under investigation.

Jones spoke out against censorship at the Livingston Parish Public Library Board meeting on July 19, when the board was set up to consider a motion to evaluate the content of certain books. Posts on Facebook in the days leading up to the meeting, they expressed outrage at the sexual references in sex education books available at the public library. Jones and many other local citizens feared that the council would respond in prohibit or restrict literature with LGBTQ content and themes, which they had seen arrive elsewhere.

Amanda Jones poses at Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, Louisiana on August 12, 2022.
Jones, the president of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians, was alarmed and outraged by the online attacks, which came after she spoke out against censorship at a library board of control meeting parish of Livingston. Emily Kask for NBC News

At the start of the meeting, board member Erin Sandefur said an unnamed state official had brought to her attention “inappropriate” books available at the library.

“The citizens of our parish are white, black, brown, gay, straight, Christian, non-Christian tax payers – people from all walks of life and from all walks of life, and no part of the community should dictate what the rest of the community should dictate. citizens have access,” Jones said during the meeting. “Just because you don’t want to read it or see it doesn’t give you the right to refuse others or demand its relocation.”

Jones didn’t mention any specific title in his remarks, but said it’s a “false narrative” that librarians put pornography in children’s sections. She also conceded that “reading challenges are often started with the best of intentions and in the name of age-appropriateness.”

Lunsford, who leads a conservative activist group called Citizens for a New Louisiana, spoke out at the meeting in favor of restrictions on books with sexual content.

Three days after the meeting, Citizens for a New Louisiana posted Jones’ photo on Facebook and asked, “Why is she fighting so hard to keep sexually erotic and pornographic material in the children’s section?” Lunsford also submitted requests for records at Jones’ school, demanding access to his personnel file and emails and said he planned to visit his workplace, according to the suit.

Over the next two weeks, the organization’s page posted about Jones several times, at one point stating that she thought “sharing eroticism and instructing minors on sex acts is progressive.” .

At the same time, another Facebook page called “Bayou State of Mind” posted memes with Jones’ photo and said she “advocates teaching 11-year-olds about anal sex.” The page, which has 6,300 followers, regularly posts anti-abortion comments, Covid vaccine misinformation and memes insulting the LGBTQ community. Later, he mocked her and other librarians fighting censorship. According to the lawsuit, Thames runs the “Bayou State of Mind” page.

People commented on some of the posts with calls for her to be physically assaulted, and they circulated where she worked, screenshots show.

“It’s horrible, it’s humiliating,” Jones said.

She added that she was overwhelmed and did not leave her house for two weeks, but had groceries delivered. She sat down with her teenage daughter to explain memes and Facebook posts, and worried about what her classmates would tell her about them. Even when people told her they supported her, she said it was still embarrassing.

But she felt compelled to retaliate, she said, because she is well known in the library world and if she didn’t speak up, neither would the other targeted librarians.

“If it takes four or five years, I’m going to fight these people on it,” she said. “Even if I lose, I can say that I stood up to them.”

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