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Cranston library suspends use of meeting space pending policy review

Hundreds protested the private Independent Women’s Network event on gender ideology, but the William Hall Library’s trustees allowed the anti-transgender event Monday, in the name of free speech

Henrietta Edwards-Orr, 11, from Cranston, protesting in front of the Cranston Library Monday.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

CRANSTON, R.I. — Days after hundreds protested a private event at the William Hall Library about “gender ideology in schools,” the director of the Cranston Public Library said it is temporarily halting future bookings of meeting spaces as it reviews its policies.

The Rhode Island chapter of the Independent Women’s Network, a national right-wing organization, had booked the auditorium for a panel discussion Monday night, featuring Chris Elston, a Canadian anti-trans activist, as guest speaker.

Fewer than 30 people attended the discussion inside, as more than 200 people demonstrated on the library’s lawn.

Anti-trans activist Chris Elston, known as "Billboard Chris," was guest speaker Monday at the Independent Women's Network event at the Cranston Library. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Library director Ed Garcia said the policy that allows outside groups to use the library space was being reviewed, and Garcia and staff will bring recommendations to the Board of Trustees. No new requests would be accepted temporarily; previously scheduled events will go on as planned, he said.


“We support inclusive programming for LGBTQ+ communities and have a long history of celebrating LGBTQ+ stories, authors, artists, and organizations,” Garcia said in a statement. “Libraries, as community institutions, have an obligation to stand as allies with members of our community who unfairly face discrimination, barriers, and isolation.”

The library has had a longstanding policy of allowing public use of its space, and until Monday night, there hadn’t been any controversy.

“This group invited a speaker who espouses views that many consider to be anti-trans and homophobic. I understand that this event caused reasonable hurt and confusion in our community,” Garcia said in a statement. “Neither the Cranston Public Library, myself, nor any member of our team share the values espoused by this outside group or their invited guests.”

The Rhode Island chapter of the Independent Women’s Network ended up hiring five police officers for safety and crowd concerns, which is expected to cost a little over $1,200. Police Chief Michael Winquist said there were no problems during the event.


Damian Lima with LBGT Action Rhode Island speaking on the steps of the Cranston Library Monday before hundreds of protesters. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Garcia said that he was inspired “that in a free marketplace of ideas, that acceptance, love, and community won the day. While the group’s invited speakers gave their remarks to a closed room of only a couple dozen individuals, hundreds of our neighbors rallied peacefully outside the William Hall Library to support our city’s LGBTQ+ community and stand against divisive and discriminatory rhetoric.

“Our facilities, our board, and our staff will always champion the First Amendment, Free Speech, and Intellectual Freedom, meaning groups with which we may disagree or even seek to condemn are still likely to be free to use our space within our policies,” he added. “Nevertheless, I have faith in this community and in the marketplace of speech to know that hate, exclusion, and discrimination will always be met more forcefully with vocal opposition and demonstrations of acceptance, love, and community.”

Amanda Milkovits can be reached at Follow her @AmandaMilkovits.