Somebody has to stand up

This article, by Casey Short, was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on June 16, 2024.

In 1997, a small group of library staff got together and decided to form the Gay & Lesbian Services Committee. It was a revolutionary idea; PCPL was one of the first public libraries in the United States to form a committee specifically dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community. The original committee pushed for the library to officially recognize employees’ domestic partnerships for healthcare and other benefits. They also put together entertaining and educational book lists for the community and invited prominent queer authors to come and speak in Tucson. The original team knew that somebody had to stand up for Tucson’s gay community, and they decided it would be them.

Fast-forward 24 years. When I started at PCPL in 2021, I had never been out at work before. I’m sure it would have been fine at some of my previous jobs, but there was never a solid set of protections for queer workers, and I never felt quite secure enough in either my employment or my place within the LGBTQ+ community to put that rainbow flag on my desk.

And then, on my very first day, there was the PCPL Pride Team! There were buttons and stickers with a rainbow logo on them scattered around the building. There were displays of bookmarks with over a dozen different Pride flags on them so that customers could pick their own flag out of the lineup. But most importantly, there were staff members who were out and proud, who openly discussed their identities and the wider LGBTQ+ community – with solid institutional support.

Of course, I signed up for the team. I wanted every new hire at PCPL to feel the same way I did – like they were stepping into a workplace that had their back, where they could focus on library work and not on whether it was safe to use their preferred pronouns or mention their partner’s gender. And I wanted our customers to have that moment where they look at the Pride flag bookmarks, gasp, and go, “Oh! That one’s me!” We all deserve to be seen and supported by the people around us, no matter who we are. The Pride Team exists to make that possible.

In a lot of ways, the Pride Team today is dealing with the same issues as the original Gay & Lesbian Services Committee. We’ve gotten healthcare for our partners, but we’re still pushing for gender-neutral bathrooms. We’ve made lists of gay and lesbian philosophy, and now we’re making lists of books about asexuality and transness. The Pride Team is still pushing boundaries to make PCPL and the county at large a more comfortable and inviting place for the LGBTQ+ community, and PCPL and the county at large are listening.

Because make no mistake: Institutional support matters. As I write this, state governments are working to strip the LGBTQ+ community of essential rights and protections. Bills are being pushed to criminalize drag and gender nonconformity, to violate the privacy and autonomy of trans children for the sake of high school sports, to make even the mention of queerness in an educational context a crime comparable to abuse. Having an entire library team dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community isn’t just a fun exercise in finding the gayest romance novels; it’s a symbol and a statement that we are not going anywhere. Somebody still has to stand up for the queers, and the Pride Team is still here to do it.

We’re here. We’re queer. And we have your back.