Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin canceled an upcoming appearance at the West Virginia Book Festival after its administrators declined her request that they nix a presentation from an author with outspoken anti-LGTBQ views.
In a letter Tuesday, Goodwin said to the Board of Directors of the Kanawha County Public Library that she objects to the library’s financial support of Orson Scott Card, author of “Ender’s Game” — a 1985 science-fiction classic turned feature film.
Card, she said, has a “well documented history of views that are contrary to the City of Charleston’s commitment to being an inclusive and welcoming community,” and she asked the board re-evaluate its decision to host him.
“I will not support hate speech of any kind and will not participate in the West Virginia Book Festival if Mr. Card is appearing,” she said.
The Book Festival, in a written statement to the Gazette-Mail, acknowledged receiving emails and seeing social media posts expressing concern regarding Card’s appearance and previous remarks.
Card was invited due to the success of his novels, his contributions to the world of literature and community surveys from previous years’ festivals — not his personal viewpoints, according to the statement provided by Stuart Frazier, marketing coordinator for the library.
“In the marketplace of ideas, all opinions should be welcomed, and unpopular beliefs should be challenged and discussed through civil discourse,” the statement reads. “Together, we can all find common ground by communicating with one another.”
A spokesperson for Card, who is scheduled to speak at 11 a.m. Saturday, did not return a request for comment.
One hour prior to Card’s speech, “Appalachians with Compassion” — which was formed Tuesday — announced it would protest Card’s appearance and is seeking vendors to join outside the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center as Card speaks and signs books.
“Card has a long established history of homophobic, transphobic and racist views, illustrated in his many published works, which he has repeatedly affirmed in the face of the LGBTQIA+ rights movement,” a news release from the organization states.
Anti-Card sentiment hit a high in 2013 with the big screen release of “Ender’s Game,” though the controversy centered on the author, not the film itself.
Card used to sit on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposed same-sex marriage. He has suggested that many gay people were raped, molested or abused into becoming gay, and questioned the legitimacy of any government that recognizes gay marriages, according to a compilation of similar remarks by Card aggregated by GLAAD, an LGBTQ advocacy group.
However, Fairness West Virginia, a leading LGBTQ advocacy group in the state, said it will not not be protesting Card’s appearance.
Executive Director Andrew Schneider said while Card has made multiple hateful and hurtful statements, he is a “provocateur” and uses the controversy to raise his own profile.
“His views have no place in modern society,” Schneider said. “We won’t be giving him the extra attention he so desperately craves.”
Matt Sutton, Goodwin’s chief of staff, said there’s a key difference between political views and hate speech predicated on “myths” — namely the idea that people become gay because of sexual abuse. When Goodwin’s LGBTQ working group recently brought Card’s statements to her attention, she decided to pull out of the Book Festival, Sutton said.
He said he understands Fairness West Virginia’s position, but didn’t want to associate the city with Card’s beliefs or sit idly by.
“This came down to not necessarily wanting to be very anti-Mr. Card, but not feeling this was what was representing the city of Charleston,” he said. “So if it brings some extra attention to him, it is what it is. But more than anything else, this was a decision that, while we respect people’s speech and respect their literary expertise — he’s clearly an accomplished and good author — it was a little too much on a personal level.”
Sutton said Goodwin would not be available for an interview.
Staff writer Ryan Quinn contributed to this report.