Mississippi Mayor Withholds $110,000 in Library Funding Over 'Homosexual Materials'

"I explained that we are a public library and we serve the entire community," said Tonja Johnson of the Madison County Library System, after Mayor Gene McGee withheld more than $110,000 of funding

Library Book
Library Books. Photo: Getty Images

The ongoing nationwide debate on censorship continues.

Mayor Gene McGee of Ridgeland, Mississippi, has withheld more than $110,000 in funding to the Madison County Library System (MCLS), refusing to pay up until they purge all LGBTQ-related books, according to Mississippi Free Press.

Mayor McGee's office did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

Tonja Johnson, executive director for the Madison County Library System, told MFP that she reached out to McGee after not receiving the City of Ridgeland's first quarterly payment of 2022.

"He explained his opposition to what he called 'homosexual materials' in the library, that it went against his Christian beliefs, and that he would not release the money as long as the materials were there," she recounted.

"I explained that we are a public library and we serve the entire community. I told him our collection reflects the diversity of our community," Johnson said, adding: "He told me that the library can serve whoever we wanted, but that he only serves the great Lord above."

Although McGee confirmed he was withholding the funds to WJTV 12, he claimed his reasoning was not in regards to LGBTQ books, but those with "sexual connotations."

"I have had many complaints from citizens about the display of certain books at the Library," McGee said in a statement. "In my capacity as mayor, I simply believe the books are inappropriate for children. There is a minimum, sexual connotations are not appropriate for children when they enter the library."

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Bob Sanders, counsel for the library board, said in a Tuesday board meeting that the mayor does not have the authority to override the library system's contract and the decision of the city's aldermen, MFP reported, as the funding was already included in the city's 2021-2022 budget.

Johnson tells PEOPLE that MCLS has since requested a hearing with the City of Ridgeland and Board of Aldermen, and they are currently awaiting a response.

"The Library Board and staff gladly serve all the people of Madison County with a wealth of cultures, religious beliefs, and views," MCLS said in a statement. "The library's collection is for people of all ages, races, gender identities/expressions, and orientations. Our books are not only a mirror to reflect our community but a window into different worlds and different experiences that enable us to learn. Our materials are available for all. Censorship has no place here in Madison County Library System. Our library is for everyone."

The news comes as Florida lawmakers consider the Parental Rights in Education bill (known by critics as the "Don't Say Gay" bill), which would allow parents to sue schools and teachers who engage in classroom discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Chasten Buttigieg is one of many pushing back on the legislation, calling out Governor Ron DeSantis over what critics fear will ban any lessons of LGBTQ history. "This will kill kids, @RonDeSantisFL," he wrote on Twitter. "You are purposefully making your state a harder place for LGBTQ kids to survive in."

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