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In rare move, school librarian fights back in court against conservative activists

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A Louisiana school librarian is suing two men for libel after they accused her of advocating for the preservation of “pornographic” material in the children’s section of the parish library. It’s a rare example of an educator taking legal action against conservatives who use extreme rhetoric in their fight against LGBTQ-themed books.

Amanda Jones, a high school librarian in Denham Springs, Louisiana, filed a defamation lawsuit Wednesday, arguing that Facebook pages of 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 that followed after speaking out against censorship at a meeting of the Livingston Parish Library Board of Control. She said she is suing the two men because she is exhausted by the insults being thrown at educators and librarians about LGBTQ material.

“I have enough for everyone,” Jones said in an interview. “Nobody stands up to these people. They just say what they want and there are no consequences and they ruin people’s reputation and there are no consequences.”

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

School districts across the country have been bombarded in the past year by conservative activists and parents demanding that books containing sexual references or discussing racial conflict, often by authors of color or those who are LGBTQ, be removed from campuses. Those requirements have slowly shifted to public libraries in recent months.

Many conservative activists have called people who defend the books “groomers” and compared them to child molesters. The Proud Boys, an extremist hate group, has invaded LGBTQ-themed reading events in different libraries, insisting that they should protect children. Some librarians have said they no longer feel safe in their role.

Jones, the 2021 Louisiana Association of Computer With Teachers High School Teacher of the Year and 2021 School Library Magazines Librarian of the Year, said more than 200 librarians contacted her as the insults spread on Facebook. Many claimed that they had been victims of similar verbal and online abuse in the past two years. More than 600 people collectively donated $20,000 to Jones on GoFundMe so she could respond with legal action.

The libel suit is seeking damages and asking 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 to consider a motion to evaluate the contents of certain books. Messages on Facebook in the days leading up to the meeting, outrage has been expressed at sexual references in sex education books available in the public library. Jones and many other local citizens feared the board would respond by banning or restricting literature with LGBTQ content and themes, which they had seen happening elsewhere.

Jones, the president of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians, was alarmed and outraged by the online attacks, which took place after she spoke out against censorship at a meeting of the Livingston Parish Library Board of Control. Emily Kask for NBC News

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

“The citizens of our parish are made up of taxpayers who are white, black, brown, gay, straight, Christian, non-Christian – people of all backgrounds and walks of life, and no part of the community should dictate what the rest of what citizens have access to,” Jones said at the meeting. “Just because you don’t want to read or see it doesn’t give you the right to refuse others or demand their removal.”

Jones did not mention a specific title in her comments, but said it is a “false story” that librarians are posting pornography in children’s wards. She also admitted that “book challenges are often done with the best of intentions, and in the name of age appropriateness.”

Lunsford, who leads a conservative action group called Citizens for a New Louisiana, spoke at the rally for restrictions on books containing sexual content.

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

Over the next two weeks, the organization’s page posted several more times about Jones, at one point saying she believes “sharing erotica and instructing young people about sex acts is progressive.”

At the same time, another Facebook page called “Bayou State of Mind” posted memes featuring Jones’ photo, saying she’s “advocating for teaching anal sex to 11-year-olds.” The page, which has 6,300 followers, regularly posts anti-abortion comments, misinformation about Covid vaccines and memes that offend the LGBTQ community. She later mocked her and other librarians who fought against censorship. According to the lawsuit, Thames controls the “Bayou State of Mind” page.

People responded to some messages with calls that she was being physically attacked, and they circulated where she worked, screenshots show.

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

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

But she felt compelled to fight back, she said, because she’s known in the library world and if she doesn’t speak out, other targeted librarians wouldn’t either.

“If this takes four or five years, I’m going to talk to these people about this,” she said. “Even if I lose, I could say I stood up to them.”

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