It all started with an article in the Mississippi Free Press by Nick Judin.
Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee is withholding $110,000 of funding from the Madison County Library System allegedly on the basis of his personal religious beliefs, with library officials stating that he has demanded that the system initiate a purge of LGBTQ+ books before his office releases the money.Ridgeland Mayor Demands LGBTQ+ Book Purge, Threatens Library Funding
The mayor goes on to tell the reporter, in response to being asked if he even has the legal authority to withhold the money from the library system, “I don’t know that I do or do not. But right now we’re holding the money.”
The executive director of the Madison County Library System made it clear that withholding these funds (roughly 5% of their annual budget) would negatively impact the library, the services they provide their community, and whether or not their staff members would lose their jobs.
In short, Mayor Gene McGee was illegally withholding funds that had already been approved from the budget, and thereby holding library employees’ livelihoods hostage, unless they complied with his demands to purge the public library of “homosexual materials” that were incompatible with his private religious beliefs.
The director then explained to the mayor that the library system, as a public entity, was not a religious institution. “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.Ridgeland Mayor Demands LGBTQ+ Book Purge, Threatens Library Funding
Apparently, the mayor was unmoved. “He told me that the library can serve whoever we wanted, but that he only serves the great Lord above,” she finished.
Enter, the Furry Fandom
I was first made aware of this news story because of its inclusion in a viral Twitter thread about Maus being banned in Tennessee.
Everything in that Twitter thread is terrible. Banning books about the Holocaust is suspiciously aligned with the Holocaust denial playbook used by neo-Nazis and the alt-right. (It’s almost like alt-right recruitment tactics are effectively neutered by prior education, and they feel threatened by the public being informed.)
But the addendum to the thread about the Ridgeland mayor stood out to me as an egregious violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The blatant homophobia couched in terms of religious faith only made it more personally vexing, but my eye was more drawn to the amount of money being withheld from the library.
$110,000? Sure, that’s not nothing to sneeze at, but the furry fandom has raised more in a weekend before. If we put our minds to it, surely we could match the deficit for this library and effectively tell Mayor Gene McGee to fuck off with his outdated prejudiced worldview.
So, with that in mind, I looked at the library’s website for a means to donate. I ended up on this page, which included a form to print out and mail in with a check. This was a bit of a nonstarter because, like most young tech workers, I don’t actually own a checkbook. So I decided to contact the library asking for an electronic means to contribute.
I’d like to donate money (i.e. as part of the Friends of the Ridgeland Library program), but I don’t have a checkbook. Is there any way to donate electronically?
Their response (available with full headers, for establishing authenticity):
Thank you so much for reaching out. We are overwhelmed by the public support.Tonja Johnson, Executive Director, Madison County Library System
Funding donations for the Ridgeland Public Library may be made payable to Friends of the Ridgeland Public Library with “Ridgeland Funding” on the memo line. Send to Friends of the Ridgeland Public Library / 397 Highway 51 / Ridgeland, MS 39157. Funds may be donated online at
https://www.fundlibraries.org/ridgelandbookbanningor via Paypal to
email@example.comPlease indicate the gift is for “Ridgeland Funding”.
Thank you for your interest in our story and for standing with us against censorship. Your support is appreciated beyond measure.
Overwhelmed? You haven’t seen nothing yet.
Equipped with an electronic means to contribute to funding the Ridgeland Library to offset the amount of money Mayor McGee was illegally withholding, I turned to a bastion of Chaotic Good energy: Furry Twitter.
The non-profit collecting the funds (Friends of the Ridgeland Library) had set an initial fund-raising goal at $2,500. I decided to start strong with a $500 donation, and shared a link to my tweet with a few friends with larger audiences than me.
I’m not very good at social media marketing, so I have a modest Twitter following. However, some of my friends are somewhat influential in the furry fandom, and gladly shared it with their friends and followers.
Within an hour of my tweet, the fundraiser already looked like this:
However, things were quickly about to accelerate beyond even my expectations.
The Fundraiser Reaches Escape Velocity on Day One
After less that one day from my inaugural tweet, the fundraiser had reached Over 9000 dollars.
Additionally, when I was looking through the backers’ comments, I noticed someone remarkably not a furry had already contributed.
Ray Mabus (Governor of Mississippi, 1988-1992) wasn’t the only Mississippi politician to notice the fundraising effort.
Over that weekend, infamous homophobic mayor Gene McGee also noticed us (remember him?), and decided to respond in the only manner appropriate for American politicians.
More Than a Furry or LGBTQ+ Issue
Although the fundraising effort was largely popularized by the furry community (which is significantly LGBTQ+), and although the stated motive for the Mayor’s actions were deeply prejudiced against LGBTQ+ people, it would be incorrect to say that the fundraiser was limited to being merely a furry issue, or even an LGBTQ+ issue.
What Mayor McGee aimed to accomplish was an attack on everyone.
An elected official trying to selectively ban queer materials from a public library solely because of his private religious beliefs is both abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press and an establishment of religion in one fell swoop. This is a double-whammy of a violation of the First Amendment.
A lot of furries donated, especially in the beginning. And a lot of LGBTQ+ folks donated, of course.
But so too did a lot of straight people. And so, too, did many self-identified conservative Americans.
Because regardless of demographic labels, or the party affiliation on your voter identification, a public official extorting a public library to purge books you dislike or else suffer the consequences of having approved funding illegally withheld is such deeply contemptible behavior that most of us can agree that it must not be tolerated.
It’s important to recognize that the reason this issue resonated with so many people outside of our communities is because it’s abundantly clear to everyone what Gene McGee is doing is wrong. Violating the First Amendment is among the most un-American things an elected official can do. Furries just got the ball rolling.
An International Perspective
Some of the people who donated to the Ridgeland Library fundraiser live abroad. It may be worth exploring the question, “If the core problem was that McGee’s attempt to ban queer literature is un-American, why would people outside America contribute too?”
The right to free speech isn’t a uniquely American ideal. Article 19 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights says:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, December 10, 1948
It turns out, freedom is a damn good idea, and good ideas are infectious.
The Fundraiser Get Noticed By the Media
Shortly after I noticed that Gene McGee had blocked me on Twitter, Dexter Thomas from VICE sent me a Twitter DM to set up an interview. We talked for over an hour about the mayor, the library, the furry fandom (and our past fundraising activities), and how this story had unfolded.
There has been a tense relationship over the years between furries and the press. A lot of people in our community are hesitant to talk to journalists because of poor treatments in the early 2000’s that treated furries as scandalous (rather than a vibrant, participatory online community).
This hesitance was likely exacerbated by the “Furries and the Media” panels at Anthrocon by the Anthrocon chairman, which basically told everyone, “Don’t talk to the press” in response to this history of yellow journalism. It’s a sensible defensive move, given the atmosphere at the time.
That being said: I don’t follow orders from anyone.
VICE in particular has historically been respectful in their coverage of our community. (Every linked word goes to a different news story.)
VICE published Dexter’s story the following Wednesday: Furries Are Leading the War Against a Book-Banning Mississippi Mayor.
And then this happened:
Shortly after talking with Dexter Thomas from VICE, I was interviewed by Keisha Rowe of Mississippi’s Clarion Ledger, who wrote an article titled Furries raise money for libraries after mayor threatens to withhold funds due to LGBTQ+ books.
Somewhere along the way, the story of furries leading the charge to raise money for a library being extorted by the local mayor was covered by LGBTQ Nation, AV Club, Boing Boing, PinkNews, QNews, and The Saturday Paper (postscript). The latter two are Australian; this story had gone International.
Was the Campaign Successful?
We successfully raised the $110,000 that Mayor Gene McGee was withholding from the Ridgeland Library with 3 days to spare. The final donation that put it over the goal was a doozy too:
Original text follows (struckthrough):
As I write this, the fundraiser is 92% funded, with over $100,000 raised from over 2,300 backers, and there are still 5 days left (out of the original 18 day runtime) to cover the rest. Even if we don’t manage to raise the last several thousand dollars in time, we’ve already contributed enough to make a difference. This will ensure the Ridgeland Library in Madison County, Mississippi can offset the funding deficit caused by Mayor McGee.
At the very minimum, we’re certainly already far more successful than the libraries professed to hoping for when the fundraiser when live:
Update on Sunday 2/6 – We did not think it would be possible, but because of all the support coming in from folks around the country we are raising the goal to $110,000 for the library. It is so important that the library can fight this threat without worrying about operating funds. Thanks for making a difference.Campaign Description
If you’d like to donate to the Friends of the Ridgeland Library to help them reach 100% of their goal in anticipation of February 14, the link to the fundraiser is:
A few misconceptions have cropped up throughout this fundraising campaign, so I wanted to take a moment to briefly address each of them.
What the Fundraiser Buys
The mayor of Ridgeland almost certainly does not have the authority to withhold money without approval from the board of aldermen. What he’s doing is extremely illegal, and everyone expects him to eventually have to surrender the money.
However, it may take some time for a decision to be reached.
What the fundraiser does is allow the library to keep operating, and providing vital services to the community, while the mayor’s extralegal behavior is being debated with the board of aldermen, or in the courts.
Until the appropriated funds are disbursed, without community support, the library would be forced to reduce their services and lay off staff. If this happened, everyone would lose.
Libraries are the backbones of communities: Beyond the obvious benefits they provide, libraries are one of the first stops many people make to escape poverty because they provide critical Internet access and job skills trainings for the people in the area they service.
Ergo, the long tail of consequences for McGee’s bigotry is difficult to estimate, but he’d almost certainly use DARVO tactics and blame any negative effects on the librarians for not complying with his unconstitutional demands.
If Mayor Gene McGee was planning on a war of attrition against the librarians of his city, up to his inevitable loss in court, donating to the fundraiser effectively denies him this tactic. It also saves a lot of innocent people from suffering, including (but not limited to) the library staff.
When the funds are disbursed, the extra infusion of cash from thousands of people will only allow the library to better serve the community. There’s no downside to supporting a public library.
On Game Theory and Interdimensional Chess
Several commentators on Reddit and Twitter have objected to this fundraising initiative because it might lead to perverse incentives wherein local politicians use outrage-fueled fundraising to justify slashing budgets, so they could spin it as a new cost-saving measure in line with conservative talking points.
I can understand why people think that (see: life insurance companies recommending people start GoFundMe campaigns when they need life-saving treatments), but it’s a relatively low risk. See above.
What would be a cause for concern is if McGee somehow loopholes his way into being permitted to egregiously violate the First Amendment. On this matter, should it go that far, we simply have to trust the competence and commitment of the courts to make the right call.
The Origins and Authenticity of the Fundraiser
Early on, some Twitter users raised concerns that the fundraiser was illegitimate, or a fraudulent cash grab. I anticipated this sort of reaction, which is why I published the full headers of the email I received from Tonja Johnson.
This is a computer forensic argument for authenticity. In order to falsify a DMARC header, I would need to have privileged access to their mail server (which would be a different, and possibly more severe, felony).
Beyond that, several journalists independently verified that the fundraiser was legitimate by contacting the Madison County Library System and inquiring about it. Mississippi Residents have a clear and simple way to verify this information without having to trust their mail servers: They can simply ask about the fundraiser in person.
The fundraiser itself was set up by EveryLibrary, a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization registered in the State of Illinois. I had no hand in the fundraiser’s creation; nor did any other furry (to my knowledge).
Note: This section was added on 2022-03-28.
Earlier this month, the Madison County Journal published a braindead editorial in the opinion section, authored by “The Editorial Board” (which consists of only two people: James E. Prince III and Michael Simmons), which claims that Mayor Gene McGee wasn’t trying to push his personal religious beliefs onto the Madison County Library System through withholding funding to the Ridgeland Library.
I was perfectly content ignoring this opinion piece (bad takes are a dime a dozen in the Opinion section of any newspaper, after all) until they parroted the same idiotic narrative in their coverage of a new library contract being agreed upon at Ridgeland City Hall.
I could take the time to analyze their narrative in order to expose its lies and deceptions, but the fatal flaw in their Public Relations strategy is this:
If Mayor Gene McGee wasn’t guilty of the homophobic agenda he’s accused of, why did he decided to block me on Twitter after I started raising awareness of the library fundraiser?
After all, an Appeals Court previously ruled that it’s Unconstitutional for politicians to block critics on social media accounts used for official purposes. And since McGee’s campaign website links directly to his Twitter account in the footer, establishing that it’s used for official purposes isn’t exactly difficult.
Not only does the Madison County Journal‘s false narrative about Mayor Gene McGee fall apart in the face of this evidence, but it’s pretty clear that the Mayor violated my Constitutional rights as an American citizen.
Actions speak louder than words.
The only reason I haven’t pursued legal action against the Mayor is that doing so would effectively dox myself through the courts. McGee really isn’t worth sacrificing the pseudonymity I enjoy as a blogger or as a queer furry on the Internet.
The lies and omissions of tabloid publications notwithstanding, the plan to save the library was an overwhelming success.
I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone that donated to the fundraiser, shared links on social media, or covered this story. Without each and every one of you, we wouldn’t have come so far.
This will probably not be the last time a library needs financial help from the community (but hopefully the others won’t be under duress of a theocratic bully in the municipal government). If you’d like to go above and beyond the effort discussed here today, visit your local library and find out how you can help.
Everything on this webpage is the sole opinion of the author, and should not be confused for statements of fact. It should also not be confused for a representative opinion of anyone else (employers, communities, demographic sectors of the human population, etc.) unless other parties externally concur with what is written here.