PRAIRIE DU CHIEN, Wis. (AP) — A staffer at a southwestern Wisconsin library says a Republican congressional candidate threatened her over a gay pride display.
Kerrigan Trautsch, a page at the Prairie du Chien Memorial Library, told the La Crosse Tribune that Derrick Van Orden came into the library on June 17 and complained loudly about a display of fiction and nonfiction books about homosexuality in the children's section. The display was part of the library's efforts to recognize Pride Month.
Trautsch, who was 17 at the time, describes herself as an advocate for the LGBTQ community. She said Van Orden was angry, and that he said the books offended him and that taxpayers shouldn't have to see them.
He was especially upset about the 2018 book, “A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo." The 40-page book put out by John Oliver's weekly HBO news show, “Last Week Tonight,” tells the fictional story of how Marlon Bundo, former Vice President Mike Pence's real-life rabbit, marries another rabbit of the same sex.
The Tribune obtained a written complaint that Van Orden filed with the library calling the book's claims that same-sex marriage was illegal in the United States when it was written inaccurate. He also claimed the book was propaganda and was “skewing young people to think Republicans are not inclusive.”
“His voice was loud, he was aggressive, he had his finger jabbing into (the book) constantly,” Trautsch said. She described the situation as “very uncomfortable, threatening.”
Van Orden repeatedly demanded to know who set up the display so he could “teach them a lesson,” she said. She had set up the display but was too afraid of him to tell him, she said.
“He was full on shouting at this point and he kept aggressively shoving the books around,” she said.
Van Orden ended up checking out every book from the display except one a library patron was already reading, she said. She went home and told her parents that she didn't feel safe at work anymore.
“I was terrified that he would be outside, that there were be a collection of people outside waiting for me, waiting for anyone else,” she said. “We were terrified.”
Trautsch said she was afraid that Van Orden wouldn't return the books or would return them damaged, but they came back within a week unscathed.
In response to an interview request from the Tribune, Van Orden issued a statement in which he said he supports equal rights for all Americans, including members of the LGBTQ community.
“It is 2021 and this should not have to be stated but there are people who continue to divide us as Americans for political purposes,” he said. “I will not allow them to further degrade the relationships we have as citizens.”
Van Orden unsuccessfully challenged Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Kind for his seat representing western Wisconsin's 3rd Congressional District in 2020. He plans to run for the seat again in 2022. Kind announced this month that he wouldn't seek reelection after 13 terms in Washington. Brett Knudson is the only Democrat who has announced a run for the office.