A Republican congressional candidate in Wisconsin reportedly melted down in June over a Pride Month display at a local library — and he was particularly upset about a parody book about Mike Pence's rabbit that highlights the former vice president's anti-LGBTQ views.
Derrick Van Orden, who was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and was recently endorsed by former president Donald Trump, visited the library in Prairie du Chien on June 17 and began to "aggressively" complain about the Pride display, according to a report in the La Crosse Tribune. He eventually obtained a library card and checked out all of the books in the display — except for one that was being read by a patron.
Kerrigan Trautsch, a page at the library who identifies as LGBTQ and was 17 at the time, said Van Orden's outburst made her feel unsafe working there.
"'It was chaos," said Trautsch, who was in a back room when she heard "words being exchanged" between a man and a colleague.
"She described Van Orden as angry, and said he used words such as 'disgusting,' adding that the books offended him and that taxpayers should not have to see the selection of books," the newspaper reported. "He said the information in the books — many of them fictional picture books for children — was "incorrect," Kerrigan recalled."
Van Orden was particularly upset about the 2018 fictional bestseller, "A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo," which details a same-sex relationship involving Pence's rabbit and has appeared on the American Library's Association's "Top 10 Most Challenged Books List." Van Orden would later submit a written statement of concern calling the book "historically inaccurate" and "propaganda" aimed at "skewing young people to think that Republicans are not inclusive."
"His voice was loud, he was aggressive, he had his finger jabbing into (the book) constantly," Trautsch told the newspaper, adding that the situation was "very uncomfortable, threatening."
When Kerrigan tried to calm Van Orden down, "he kept saying: 'Hush, you don't have a voice. You don't have a voice,'" Trautsch said, adding that he demanded to know who set up the Pride Month display so he could "teach them a lesson."
"I was the one who put up those displays," she said. "He was full on shouting at this point and he kept aggressively shoving the books around."
After Van Orden obtained a library card and checked out all of the books, library workers feared he would damage them or not return them. But he returned them a week later.
Trautsch, meanwhile, went home angry and crying.
"When I got home I told my parents: 'I don't feel safe at work anymore,'" she said. "I was terrified that he would be outside, that there would be a collection of people outside waiting for me, waiting for anyone else. We were terrified."
Van Orden issued a statement in response to the report saying: "I unequivocally support equal rights for all Americans. This of course includes our fellow citizens who are 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. I will not allow them to further degrade the relationships we have as citizens."