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Interest surges in a children’s RuPaul biography after Colchester's first selectman warned of 'provocative drawings'

rupaul library censorship colchester book banning
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
An illustration inside “Who is RuPaul?” is at the center of a controversy in Colchester after Republican First Selectman Andreas Bisbikos raised the alarm about the book in the town's library after a complaint from a parent. The book is by Nico Medina and illustrated by Andrew Thomson

Copies of a children’s biography of drag performer RuPaul are flying off library shelves since Republican Andreas Bisbikos, the first selectman of Colchester, raised the alarm about the book in the town's library after a complaint from a parent.

As of Friday morning, the Central Connecticut Library Connection listed 19 copies at libraries in central Connecticut. Almost all of them had been checked out. Additional holds were placed on some of the remaining copies.

Several copies were on their way to the Cragin Memorial Library in Colchester.

Andreas-Bisbikos-.jpg
Andreas Bisbikos, Colchester’s Republican first selectman

Bisbikos informed Cragin Memorial of a complaint about the biography, which led to its removal from the children's section.

“The book contains sexually provocative drawings which the parent found offensive,” Bisbikos posted on Facebook. “I have instructed Kate Byroade, our Library Director, to begin an inventory of the children’s material. We encourage parents that come across any material in the children’s section that may be deemed questionable, to bring it to the attention of the library staff immediately.”

According to Byroade, reviewing the 26,000 books in the children's section could take several weeks. She says library staff already review books before they are put on the shelves.

The Connecticut Library Association said in a statement that Bisbikos was calling on Colchester residents to target the library’s collection: “The Connecticut Library Association condemns First Selectman Bisbikos’ egregious act of governmental overreach. It was an attack on the first amendment rights of Colchester’s residents to access free speech in the library.”

Byroade said because a complaint was received, the book was checked out internally so that the staff could review it, as required by policy. But because the book is still in the library, anyone can come in and request to see it during the review process.

"This was never about censorship," Bisbikos wrote on Facebook. "I was merely attempting to be responsive to a concern coming from a parent in our town."

Byroade said it's important which books are on the shelves of public libraries.

She said Black children were not regularly portrayed prominently in children's literature until the 1960s, and "representation is vital for everyone.”
"Children's books in particular have been full of straight, white, cisgender, heterosexual people since the dawn of time," Byroade said.

The diversity represented in books continues to speak to individuals and families, she pointed out, adding that she had received a comment from a parent who said library books about gender helped her to better understand her child, and also helped with the child's understanding of self.

"Who Is RuPaul?" by Nico Medina, is part of a series of biographies for children. The book was highlighted at the Colchester library as part of a Pride Month display. It was added to the collection in February and had never been checked out until the controversy began, Byroade said.

Byroade says the drawing in question appears to be one based on a 1994 ad campaign for MAC Cosmetics' Viva Glam line of cosmetics, in which RuPaul is spelling out the letters VIVA GLAM in poses that resemble letters.

The drag performer's outfit includes red thigh-high boots and a matching bustier.

Learn more
Connecticut librarians brace for a “tsunami” of book challenges: The American Library Association (ALA) reported an “unprecedented spike” in book removal requests, documenting more than 470 during the final four months of 2021 in a preliminary tally.
Hear from school and public librarians in Connecticut from this episode of "Where We Live."

"It's all a lie — this world is a lie," says RuPaul Charles. "So don't base your value on the lie." RuPaul is shown above in London on Jan. 18, 2020.
Tristan Fewings
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Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for World of Wonder
"It's all a lie — this world is a lie," says RuPaul Charles. "So don't base your value on the lie." RuPaul is shown above in London on Jan. 18, 2020.

Matt Dwyer is a producer for Where We Live and a reporter and midday host for Connecticut Public's news department.