Community Members Raise Concerns over “Toxic” Library Culture, Potential LGBTQ+ Discrimination

In a long, surprise public comment, several speakers asked for a countywide nondiscrimination ordinance based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
The Teton County Library has made headlines in recent months for the “removal” of one board member and the surprise departure of its director. (Will Walkey/KHOL)

Over a dozen community members took a town and county meeting by storm on Monday to address recent upheaval at the Teton County Library. They expressed concern over the removal of a board member from their position earlier this fall, and the departure of Oscar Gittemeier, a self-identified member of the LGBTQ+ community, who left after serving for just three months. 

Housing preservation, transportation, and human services. Those were some of the topics scheduled for the Joint Information Meeting between the town council and county commission on Monday. But at least 14 people put another topic front and center for elected officials during public comment.

“I’m so confused by the county’s four to one decision to dismiss Dail Barbour from the library board,” said Kyra Halls, who was speaking on the behalf of someone who wished to remain anonymous. 

“As a former Teton County library employee, I was extremely distressed and also not at all surprised when I heard that Oscar Gittmeier was asked to leave his position as Library Director,” said Meena Fernald, also speaking on behalf of another person who did not feel comfortable reading out loud publicly. 

The comment period lasted over 40 minutes, with several people reading one statement for a person who wished to remain anonymous, as well as another view speaking for themselves. Mark Houser, a longtime advocate of the local LGBTQ+ community, helped organize the entire effort. 

We generated a list of individuals who love the library and who were wanting to take some action,” Houser said. “We collected the anonymous comments that were read, and forwarded those comments to individuals who felt they could read them. Even the reader of any particular set of comments did not know who the author was. So there was that kind of separation and protection for the authors of the anonymous comments.”

The specific concerns raised about possible LGBTQ+ discrimination spoke to a larger issue of transparency in library management. Several current and former library staff members asked for the reinstatement of former board member Dail Barbour or an investigation into local HR policies. Dawn Jenkin, who served as Library Director in 2019 for about a year before quitting, spoke about the culture she observed while working there. 

I resigned because I was presented with an unethical demand from the Library Board that would have compromised my professional reputation and my character. I apologize to the community for not speaking sooner,” Jenkin said. “It is past time for the public to become vigilant in demanding that the Library Board serve its charge: The effective management of a free and independent library according to professional standards.”

Jenkin and others spoke of a culture where staff members are overworked, and where the intellectual independence of the library is questioned and intruded on by local government. In addition to issues with upper management, several speakers brought up former Director Oscar Gittmeier’s identity as a member of the transgender community, and specifically questioned if he was let go because of his gender identity.

“While discrimination may ultimately have not played a role in this, our LGBTQ+ community needs transparency and accountability in order to regain and earn our support and trust,” said Colleen McHugh, who was reading on behalf of Ash Hermanowski.

“Surely there is missing information. I’m speaking today to say that this missing information is something our community deserves to know, or at least it needs to somehow be addressed,” Jackson resident Adrian Croke said. “Without any more transparency, we are forced to assume that a grave injustice has taken place. And that’s not something I want to believe.” 

“LGBTQ folks are almost always hyper-aware of their vulnerability when we come into a new situation,” Wyoming House Representative Sara Burlingame said. “And we’re looking for processes that support us, and we’re looking for a community and a process that creates that resiliency and ability to trust. And I see that missing here. And it really, really disappoints me.”

The comments reached beyond just Gittemeier’s departure, about which there still isn’t much public information. They revealed concerns about a leadership team that has at times left members of marginalized communities feeling vulnerable and unfairly treated. Andrew Munz, a local writer and member of the LGBTQ+ community, told a specific story about a time in 2015 when he was the library’s Teen Summer Reading Program Coordinator.

I sought out New York Times best-selling author Adam Silvera to speak to our communities and encourage them to read and write,” Munz said. “Right out of the gate, I received pushback from upper management, who expressed concern as to whether or not it was appropriate for Mr. Silvera to speak to our local teens. The reasoning, I was told, was that Mr. Silvera’s sexuality, as well as his novel, which centered on a sci-fi love story between two young men, were questionable.” 

Munz and at least five other commenters called for a specific countywide nondiscrimination ordinance based on sexual orientation or gender. The town of Jackson passed a nondiscrimination ordinance in 2018  but the county has yet to do so. Others called for more members of the LGBTQ+ community in local positions of power. 

“Ultimately, I was unsupported in my role and felt as though I was one of only a few people in the entire building who cared enough to create programming that directly catered to diverse teenagers of the modern era,” Munz said. “Teenagers that don’t just exist in cities, but are right here in our corner of Wyoming.”

Organizer Mark Houser says he felt officials listened to the concerns of their fellow community members, and hopes recent action will fuel conversation, even if it’s just among neighbors. 

“I was happy to be part of organizing the action,” he said. “I feel honored to be able to speak to people who are in a position not to publicly give voice to their issues.”

Houser and others said that those in marginalized communities are particularly attuned to communication issues or a lack of specific protections at a workplace, especially when they are the ones that face potential harassment or worse every day. As the community continues to press for more transparency about library management, LGBTQ+ advocates hope that local officials will keep their concerns in mind.

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About Will Walkey

Will is KHOL's first full-time reporter and producer. Originally from Tacoma, Washington, he recently graduated from Columbia University with a Master's Degree in journalism. He likes to read and write about housing, local politics, and history, and spends most of his free time fishing or biking. He's excited to be living in Wyoming, and looks forward to honing in on his unique radio voice by highlighting the locals that make Jackson special. Contact Will with tips at will@jhcr.org, and follow him on Twitter at @WillWalkey.

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