The Westerly Town Council voted down a resolution Monday night that would have formally supported legislation being proposed by a local state representative to add comic books and other animated images to content considered potentially explicit under Rhode Island obscenity law and hold public and charter school libraries liable if they loan the materials to minors.

The vote followed hours of public comment from librarians, educators, booksellers, and their supporters, as well as three proponents of the town resolution and the House bill, H-6324, who said they consider popular graphic novels addressing sexual themes to be pornography.

“I think you all made it very, very clear tonight who you are and what you want Westerly to be,” Town Council Vice President Kevin Lowther told a packed crowd at Westerly Town Hall. “So I absolutely would not support H-3624 in any form.”

Lowther, who called the bill “vague and ill-considered,” was joined by Town Council President Edward Morrone, and councilors Joy Cordio and Mary Scialabba.

Councilor Phil Overton, who brought the resolution before the town council, voted in favor of it, saying animated materials he considers to be child pornography and pedophilic are not protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Councilor Dylan LaPietra also supported the resolution.

Councilor William Aiello abstained from voting, but said he would support a resolution that had some changes to the language. 

Just before the vote, Cordio proposed amending the resolution to explicitly oppose the House bill but withdrew that motion after it was suggested that the public should be given more advanced notice about a substantive change to what councilors would be voting on.More than 20 people spoke in opposition to the proposed town resolution, with several speakers saying it would effectively condone a bill that targets the LGBTQIA community at a time when books on gender and sexuality are being challenged across the country. They also defended libraries as a source of information and support for people seeking information on issues important to the queer community.

“As a queer teenager, libraries saved my life,” said Westerly resident Jessica Castigliego. If libraries didn’t carry certain material, Castigliego said, “I would not have been able to safely access information that I needed at that age, information that was not inappropriate by age.”

Librarians who spoke pointed out that their field requires extensive educational training that prepares them to select materials that are age appropriate, and suitable for inclusion in school and public libraries. They also questioned how popular graphic novels on queer themes, like the book “Gender Queer: a Memoir,” by nonbinary, asexual author Maia Kobabe, could be considered to lack “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value,” as required under Rhode Island law to be considered obscene, if those books have received national awards and the endorsement of professionals who review books for inclusion in library and bookstore collections.

Other speakers questioned the motivations of the House bill at a time when books are being challenged across the country.

“If you say yes to this bill, and this bill passes, you are playing in the hands of the GOP’s current attempt to eradicate LGBTQ education from this country,” said Marco Cozzolino, a senior at Westerly High School. “This is not how I want to remember this town.”Three people who came to the meeting spoke in support of backing the library obscenity bill being proposed by Westerly state Rep. Sam Azzinaro and seven other House lawmakers. 

One advocate of the legislation, Robert Chiaradio, Jr., who has led efforts in recent years to challenge curriculum in the Westerly Public School District and library content, said the goal of the library obscenity bill is to protect children.

Chiaradio came prepared with poster size displays of images from the book “Gender Queer: a Memoir,” showing a “Greek courtship scene” with two nude people, and another showing a young person performing oral sex on another young person.

“I ask you: Is this what we want Westerly’s kids to have access to?” Chiaradio said. “Have our morals sunk to such a level as to where we are OK with the glorification and normalization of pedophilia and child-on-child sex?”

Chiaradio also appeared to take issue with what he saw as a broader cultural focus in recent years on LGBTQIA issues, without recognizing more people outside that community. He recalled visiting the Westerly Library & Wilcox Park earlier Monday and seeing a display celebrating Pride Month.

“No one condemns our gay or trans brothers and sisters. Not this guy,” Chiaradio said. “Though I do wonder when, as a hardworking, community-oriented, white, Catholic male, husband, and father, when there'll be a month honoring us.”Another speaker in support of the resolution, Paolo Magliari, who identified as an evangelist and pastor, and wore a shirt with the words “KNOW JESUS KNOW PEACE,” said he previously opposed making certain books available in the Westerly School District and said, “I still stand in Christ opposing any attack from evil against our children.”

He told anyone “pushing for pornography to be available to kids” that “it's not too late. God loves you, and he forgives you.”

The third supporter, Jane Brockman, implored the council to “Please think of our children and don't be confused by freedom of speech and all this kind of stuff. It has nothing to do with freedom of speech.”

The proposed town council resolution that was rejected would have said the town “wishes to express its strong support for H-6324 because it is much needed common sense legislation.” It called on the General Assembly and Gov. Dan McKee to pass and enact the legislation into law, and said Westerly’s resolution should be distributed to all Rhode Island city and town councils, urging them to support the library obscenity bill.

Chiardio said approving the resolution could make Westerly the “jumping off point for the entire country.”

The proposed House legislation was introduced in April during National Library Week and singled out public and charter school libraries, as well the library at the Rhode Island State House. State Rep. Azzinaro later clarified that he intended for the bill to apply to all libraries, but that he didn’t mean to apply it to the legislative library. 

If passed, people convicted under the legislation could be fined up to $1,000 and sentenced to up to two years in prison.

According to the General Assembly’s legislation tracker, the bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee on April 26 and has not advanced since.

Councilor Joy Cordio encouraged opponents of the bill to take their activism to the State House, where lawmakers will have the ultimate say on the fate of the bill.

Town Council President Morrone echoed a sentiment shared during the public comment period that libraries are probably not the main source for explicit materials being accessed by minors.

Morrone held up his cell phone and said, “The bane of our existence is right here.”

Noting that the bill is a matter for the state legislature to decide, he added, “I'm sorry that that resolution is here at all.”

Alex Nunes can be reached at