How to Be Queer in Texas

Librarians compare experiences from the front lines of the culture wars

January 24, 2022

A January 24 session of LibLearnX asked attendees to think back to Texas, where the conference was originally scheduled to be held before shifting to a virtual format. The state has also been the backdrop for recent book challenges targeting LGBTQIA+ experiences, among others.

The state climate can be openly hostile to queer people: The nonprofit Movement Advancement Project has ranked Texas “low” when it comes to policies relating to sexual orientation and “negative” on policies related to gender identity. How, then, has the lived experience of queer librarians and library workers compared with expectations? Arro Smith, technical services manager at San Marcos (Tex.) Public Library, moderated the discussion “Being a Queer Librarian in Texas: Expectation vs. Reality.”

“I’ve never hidden who I am but I am queer/nonbinary, so there’s always some level of people looking at me like, ‘There’s something there and I can’t put my finger on it.’ Even if I don’t out myself, I already give off the vibes,” said Steph Noell, special collections librarian at University of Texas at San Antonio. “I’m a lifelong Southerner, I grew up evangelical, I have a very realistic view of coming out. I just try to come to work as my authentic self, and … people are going to dig it or they’re not.”

Noell appreciates the openness of the university environment and the diverse perspectives of incoming students. “I live by the professional principal of being who I needed when I was younger and thinking that way for my students,” they said. “I’m constantly trying to think of what is better now than it was when I was growing up and keeping that forward progression in mind.”

“I’ve always known not to take any pushback personally,” said Israel Favela, collection development and cataloging manager for the city of Houston, describing the intersectional identities that inform his work. “I am an immigrant, formerly undocumented, gay man. I’ve been very lucky, I’ve always had an out librarian somewhere that I could go to for advice. I just want to encourage everybody to be that for someone else.”


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