City officials in Leander, Texas abruptly cancelled an appearance by renowned graphic novelist Lilah Sturges at the Leander Public Library just hours before her scheduled visit. Officials cited previously-unannounced guest speaker restrictions when cancelling the appearance by Sturges, who is transgender. Sturges is a prominent graphic novelist and prose author whose published works include Jack of Fables, Thor: Season One, House of Mystery, Lumberjanes: Infernal Compass, and The Magicians: Alice’s Story.

This capricious application of expanded restrictions strongly suggests a bias against Sturges’s gender identity and a gross violation of First Amendment principles.

Following protests against LGBTQ-inclusive programming in June, Leander’s City Council initiated a review of library event policies and temporarily barred external groups from using library meeting rooms without prior approval by city staff. Since adopting this temporary event policy, Sturges is the only guest speaker to be denied access to the library. Several youth events have been held in meeting rooms without city official review, including a Mad Science children’s event during the week Sturges was scheduled to speak. Guest speakers unaffiliated with the library, like REPCO Wildlife, have since been allowed access to library spaces and young patrons without background checks or prior city approval.

It appears that prejudice and not process motivated the cancellation of Lilah Sturges’s book club visit. Sturges’s talk was neither scheduled to take place in a library meeting room, nor was it organized by an external group. As early as May 2019, Leander Library management invited Sturges to attend its graphic novel club’s July 9th meeting to discuss her Lumberjanes series. Shortly after scheduling the event, library management met with city officials and notified them of Sturges’s planned visit. No city officials objected.

Despite these facts, on July 9th, city officials cancelled the event hours before Sturges was to appear, citing an expanded event policy that imposed a background check requirement. Officials demanded that Sturges submit to a screening before her talk could be rescheduled. Sturges has indicated that, were she informed in time, she would submit to a background check.

NCAC’s Kids’ Right to Read Project is urging Leander’s City Council to remember its commitment to the First Amendment and reschedule Sturges’s appearance as soon as is practical. Co-signors include the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, National Council of Teachers of English, The Authors Guild, American Booksellers for Free Expression and PEN America’s Children’s and Young Adult Books Committee.

The American Library Association maintains a Library Bill of Rights, which includes this section on library meeting rooms.

Read the full letter to the mayor below.

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