WHS Librarian Recognized by LGBTQ Commission on Youth

By Chris Wangler
April 3, 2024

 

The Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth honored Waltham High School librarian Reba Tierney at an annual event in Boston.

The commission recognized Tierney “for her unwavering commitment to advancing LGBTQ+ equality and diversity within her school and community,” according to a press release.

Proposed WHS Library Book Bans

In December 2021, former Waltham School Committee candidate Renee Arena proposed banning two commonly targeted books from the WHS library.

 

School librarian Reba Tierney was suddenly in the crosshairs as the ultimate authority on what materials are available in the WHS library.

She and other officials served on a committee that reviewed the proposed bans and rejected them, in part because they failed to take the entire works into consideration.

 

The Waltham School Committee voted in February 2022 to support the library committee’s decision after hearing passionate defenses of inclusion from students, staff and community members.

 

Reba Tierney did not speak at the meeting, but it became a flashpoint for the WHS queer community and the larger Waltham LGBTQ+ community and its allies.

“Championing LGBTQ+ Equality and Diversity”

Established in 1992, the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth aims to reduce suicide and improve the lives of queer youth in the Commonwealth.

At its annual Gayla on March 30, the commission recognized “the significant contributions of community collaborators, allies in government and the strides made towards a more inclusive future for LGBTQ youth.”

Reba Tierney was nominated for the honor by Sara Kent, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning at Waltham Public Schools. 

 

Kent told the commission that “Tierney was instrumental in the review process of contested books, advocating for their retention in the library’s collection with thoughtful updates and considerations for student needs.”

The commission added that Tierney’s “actions have ensured that all students feel safe and supported in accessing literature that resonates with their experiences and identities.”

Reba Tierney said she was honored to be recognized, but also requested that Joyce Guelli, a school library paraprofessional, also be recognized. 

“There are so many people that also make a difference, so I felt a little uncomfortable being singled out,” she said.

Expanding Access

The proposed book bans at Waltham High School motivated the school’s PTO to raise money to update the school’s LGBTQ+ collection, with Tierney’s support. 

 

“It allowed me to buy even more materials, in both English and Spanish,” she said.

Along with collection development, she has “made sure that all students feel welcome and supported.”

 

Reba Tierney’s recognition comes as school library book bans continue to be proposed across the country, forcing librarians to take a stand.

“By providing a diverse range of books and fostering supportive spaces, librarians affirm the importance of every student's story, promoting a culture of empathy and inclusivity,” said Jason Wheeler, director of the commission’s Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students.

File photos