Proposed Legislation in Several States to Eliminate LGBTQ+, “Obscene” Books: Book Censorship News, January 20, 2023
Right-wing politicians got the new legislative year off to an impressive start with several new bills across the country directly targeting books, reading, and intellectual freedom. Of course, we know that these bills aren’t about the books at all, but instead are another avenue to chip away at the rights of marginalized populations: people of color, queer people, and young people.
Here are some of the bills of concern, and this is not comprehensive. If you live in these jurisdictions, it is crucial to begin calling and writing your representatives. If you live in these areas and are part of an anti-censorship group, it is time to begin mounting an information campaign and engaging your community to respond. This is tiring and exhausting work, but you cannot give up now. Consider creative ways to have your voice heard — at a library in British Columbia facing pushback for a drag story time, supporters threw a fabulous party in support of the event, making their position and beliefs heard loud, clear, and in a downright fun way (as, of course, is the entire point of these events).
It also never hurts to name and shame the bill creators and their supporters. Their jobs should always be on the line.
Note: none of the things these representatives suggest is happening in libraries and schools is actually happening. This is a waste of taxpayer money and pandering to a very specific niche of constituents.
Indiana, SB 12
Last year, Indiana policymakers tried to create a bill that would allow prosecution of anyone giving “harmful material” to minors. They’re reviving the bill this year, and it would also outlaw drag performances and book displays.
Excluded under this bill would be people doing things like taking tickets, turning on a projection screen for a film, and similar. We are really at a point with how ridiculous these bills are that jobs like this are laid out in legislation as outside of the law. But go get those librarians and teachers, sure.
At least one community in Indiana plans to vote on supporting the resolution, despite the fact their own public library does not agree with it. The book that reignited this? It’s Perfectly Normal, a book for children about sex.
Iowa, House File 8
This new bill would not allow any instruction or material about sexual identity or orientation for kindergarten through 3rd grade students. Representative Skyler Wheeler (Republican) stated this would not mean students who have same sex parents could not state that fact, but that would be the extent to which those conversations could happen.
“If a kid has, you know, same-sex parents, nothing prevents them in this bill from mentioning that in class,” Wheeler said. “It just simply says to the teacher, ‘Hey, we’re going to stick to what we’ve been teaching.’”
Mississippi, HB 1045
Mississippi wants to legislate what books, materials, and events are made available in public libraries across the state. This is a blatant anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ bill. It opens the doors for suing library workers for “damages” caused by such books and events.
Missouri, SB 158
Missouri’s proposed bill would create easy avenues for objecting to books and materials in classrooms and libraries, with a bonus for putting a bounty on individuals who offer these “objectionable” lessons. Note how fuzzy the language is here — as long as someone objects to something for whatever reason, it is subject to investigation and potential litigation. What do you imagine happens if parents object to Christian nationalism being the foundation of the educational curriculum? I suspect they don’t get to exercise their rights in quite the same way…
Montana, Office of Public Instruction Proposal on “Human Sexuality Instruction”
Not yet a formalized bill, this proposal from the Office of Public Instruction expands upon laws in the state which dictate how human sexuality can be taught in schools. The expansion would put a penalty on educators who do not give at least 48 hours notice of upcoming lessons as well as potentially giving any materials — including books for free reading — which may fall under whatever legislators deem “human sexuality instruction.”
Nebraska, LB 374 and LB 71
What began as a bill giving parents more input into the books available to students in schools, requiring time for them to approve texts prior to use (LB 71), grew into an even larger and more ghoulish bill in LB 374. Both would also make it even easier to file book challenges and ban books.
According to the Journal Star, “The bill [LB 374] would require school districts to develop and adopt policies outlining how parents can inspect curriculum materials in an online portal and object to any learning materials they believe harm their ‘firmly held beliefs, values, or principles,’ and withdraw their children from those classes or activities.”
What if a parent’s “firmly held beliefs” are that queer people and Black people are real and deserve to be represented? Does that matter here?
Another part of this bill? A gag order on educators on topics of race and racism. This is a “Critical Race Theory” ban.
North Dakota, HB 1205 and SB 2123
Any books featuring gay or trans humans would be banned in public libraries under HB 1205 bill. What is especially disturbing about this one is the level of detail going into what is or is not allowed on shelves in public libraries. Who is spending this much time thinking about these things in a legal capacity?
Again: any book about “sexual” or “gender” identity would be illegal in public libraries.
The bill proposed in the North Dakota Senate is similar, and it strips away protections that allow educational institutions — schools, libraries, museums, and similar — to bypass the law.
It is disturbing to think that legislators are describing the states of “female” breasts are allowed to be depicted and the state in which “male” genitals can be illegally represented.
Texas, HB 361, HB 1155, and HB 1404
Texas takes up their own “Don’t Say Gay” bills with these two proposals. The first, HB 361, comes from Steve Toth, and the second from Jared Patterson, who demanded state institutions not purchase materials from any vendors who sell Gender Queer (and who has been targeting Prosper ISD and Frisco ISD school libraries himself).
This part of HB 361 is noteworthy — what does “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” mean? I suspect we know what won’t be talked about in those lessons.
Speaking of Patterson’s take on disallowing purchases from vendors selling books he doesn’t like, that’s the crux of HB 1404.
Districts will be unable to purchase material from vendors who sell books that they don’t like. That means the largest vendors will be on a list of businesses from which schools cannot legally purchase from. Great stuff here, opening the door for more Moms for Libraries nonsense to take over.
West Virginia, SB 252
Lawmakers in West Virginia were grappling with how to create book bans without creating book bans late last year and they’ve figured it out: define any books by or about LGBTQ+ people as “obscene material.”
It should be deeply disturbing how much time lawmakers — people being paid to represent a community — are spending on defining specific sexual acts, people’s identities, and sexualizing body parts. This is far more disturbing and distasteful than any LGBTQ+ book found in any children’s collection in any school or library.
Wyoming, HB 87
Introduced by a brand new representative who has been “heavily involved” in the “movement” to pull books from Wyoming public and school library shelves, this bill would expand the meaning of “child pornography” to cover whatever lawmakers decide it means. The bill would also repeal the exception given to using “explicit” materials — again, being redefined here — in schools, libraries, museums, and other educational institutions. An addition to the materials covered under the bill means comics and cartoons would be included (is this directly related to Gender Queer? You bet it is).
Book Censorship News: January 20, 2023
- Author Emma Straub was invited to speak to students about her children’s book in Katy Independent School District (Texas). She was uninvited this week because — wait for it — she tweeted the word “fuck” the day of the Uvalde shooting and parents were offended by this. A small group of extremists are dictating what and who young people can experience…and in this case, the parents believe the word “fuck” used on Twitter is more dangerous than the fact 19 children and two teachers were murdered a few hours west of where they live.
- And in McKinney Independent School District (Texas), they’ve made it a lot easier to get books pulled from shelves for any reason — the Miller test be damned. “There were two significant updates to the district’s policy EFB Local, which details what materials can be made available to students in school libraries in McKinney. First, the new policy removes a requirement that reconsideration committees consider the text “as a whole” when evaluating a book for obscenity. The update means that a book can be challenged and removed on the basis of a page or a paragraph, no matter the value of the work as a whole or how that passage fits into the context of the work. As board member Stephanie O’Dell put it, “If a parent comes and says page 5, 9, 27, whatever, then the librarian and principal have the authority to go, ‘Okay.’””
- The Conroe Independent School District (Texas) board meeting dragged on past 1 a.m. as they discussed the fate of the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The book will remain on shelves for now. Also, they might switch their policies making the library opt-in, instead of opt-out. Read that again: the default would be no library access at a public school district.
- Owasso Public Schools (Oklahoma) finished reviewing the 6,000 graphic novels and comics they pulled from shelves. All but 17 will be returned, as those need “further evaluation.”
- What this story does not mention is that in one of the book banning groups on Facebook, parents were celebrating the fact they were going to the police over a teacher giving students Looking For Alaska in Coloma, Michigan.
- In Big Walnut schools (Ohio), Looking For Alaska will not be banned. Students at the school staged a walkout in protest of the demand it be pulled.
- Valley City Barnes County Public Library (North Dakota) will not be pulling Let’s Talk About It from bookshelves, but they will be moving it from the YA section to the adult section. The words “Teen’s Guide” are in the book’s title, pretty much telling you the audience, but sure.
- Norwin School District board member Alex Detschelt (Pennsylvania) wants the middle grade book Al Capone Does My Shirts removed from the schools. The reason is a word that he disagrees with in the book, as well as references to nudity. Meanwhile, this same board member has used that word out of context on his own social media. Hypocrite, eh?
- In Rapides Parish, Louisiana, the library board was set to vote on a controversial (read: bigoted) amendment to collection development. Then they realized it could be unconstitutional and now are seeking legal guidance…from the attorney general who set up a snitch line on teachers and librarians.
- The most challenged and banned books in Louisiana libraries in 2022.
- “The [Florida] state Board of Education will meet Wednesday to discuss and vote on new proposed standards aimed at increasing scrutiny of library books — and the new guidance for district staff is to “err on the side of caution” when selecting books for school libraries.” I can only imagine what school libraries in Florida are going to look like by the end of this year.
- Berkeley County Library (South Carolina) removed a number of books from shelves for review. This story is very light on details, but the library claims no books have been removed (that’s literally what removing books is, y’all) and some claim the library is looking through all of the titles on Texas’s politician Matt Kraus’s list.
- The almost entirely new board at Crawford County Public Library (Arkansas) is considering a proposal where they get to review all of the book purchases for the library. As we know, library board members are all certified librarians with backgrounds in collection development, especially boards filled with right-wing folks bent on their agenda being THE agenda. More here, with photo of how white the room is. Read this piece for the stellar quote from the book banners about how their religious liberties are being infringed upon because there are LGBTQ+ book displays sometimes.
- Several books are under fire in Walker County, Georgia, schools. I wonder if these are Moms for Liberty or Mama Bears.
- “Books currently banned in Horry County [South Carolina] schools, as of that meeting, include Julian is a Mermaid, Last Night at the Telegraph Club, Lily and Dunkin, Melissa, This Book is Gay, and What Riley Wore.” This article calls Moms For Liberty “conservative leaning” but still treats them like they are a legitimate group instead of a well-funded hate organization.
- A right-wing pastor in Connecticut wanted to host a “Pastor Story Hour” at the Chelmsford Public Library to protest the fact there are more than two genders and queer people exist. It did not go as he hoped. (Hey news folks, it’s not a controversy if it’s blatant bigotry!).
- “A new policy has been passed by the Penncrest School District [Pennsylvania]. The policy is said to ‘prohibit any material with explicitly written, visual or visually implied depictions of sexual acts or simulations of such acts, as well as visual depictions of nudity with the exception of anatomical diagrams and classical works of art.'” This cannot be constitutional.
- Sheridan County School District 2 (Wyoming) is listening to a mother and failed school board candidate talk about how books need rating systems. Engaging in this conversation is ridiculous, and it is not the board’s job to know every book in the school or school library.
- At the Punxsutawney School District (Pennsylvania), new courses have been added to the curriculum, but some board members are showing their whole ass by claiming some of them are introducing “CRT.” One board member even said there is a problem with using the book The Devil In The White City because the description was enough to seem a problem. “’The description [of a new psychology course] says it’s critical thinking in diverse of roles, of gender, of cultural, theoretical perspectives from culturally diverse points of view. And with Critical Race Theory that’s mainly what they’re trying to implement into schools, and I don’t want to see it in our curriculum,’ Evans said.”
- There are 60 people on the review board for the 35 books being reviewed in Frederick County Schools (Maryland).
- Things are looking grim for the Ocean City, New Jersey, school board, where several Moms For Liberty candidates have won seats.
- Isle of Wight County’s School Board [Virginia] postponed vote on a bill that would ban “divisive concepts” (whatever that means) because many were not happy about it — including students.
- I’m paywalled from this story, but “parental rights” “advocates” are taking charge at a Maine school district.
- At the Moon Public Library (Pennsylvania), the city’s supervisors decided to install conservative voices on the library board after hearing complaints from that vocal minority about a single book in the library’s collection: The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish Swish Swish. Authoritarianism.
- And in Gettysburg School District (Pennsylvania), the board can’t figure out how to allow parents to restrict access to some materials for their students. This board previously proposed cataloging the top 100 most banned books and letting that be an opt-out option.
- Florida’s governor decided that they will not be allowing an AP African American Studies class to happen in state schools because it’s against their laws.
- Madison County, Virginia, just banned a whole new round of books from their schools.
- Portage Public Schools (Michigan) removed Push from their school library collection after a complaint from someone who does not even have students in the school. I’m pretty sure they’re celebrating this one in their Mary in the Library Michigan chapter, which has a fervent group of book banners.
- Also in Michigan, this time Milan, a group of “concerned parents” are making rape and death threats to the school board. “The books these individuals question are typically not part of any required reading and these parents ALREADY have the right to notify the school district of books they do not want their children to check out. However, these parents also believe themselves to be legal experts on what the definitions of ‘porn,’ ‘sexually explicit’ and ‘obscene’ are when it comes to these books. Labeling a book as such, does not make it so. Removing a book prior to finding that it indeed meets the criteria, is a first amendment violation.”
- Six of the first books being reviewed in Beaufort County Schools (South Carolina) will remain in the schools, though there are age designations in place for several of them. Stamped, for example, will not be allowed in the K–5 school library.
- Hermon, Maine, town council might spend a good chunk of money asking how residents feel about certain books in the school libraries, as if the citizenship are trained professionals on such matters. We’ve already seen that the folks who show up are those who have an agenda.
- The Faribault Public Schools (Minnesota) just brought a member of MassResistance, an SPLC-designated hate group, onto their school board.
- “Instead of a list, parents and guardians can now write which topics they’d like their children to opt out on, and they will then be directly contacted by a librarian.” This new opt-out policy at the Ephrata Area Schools (Pennsylvania) is an absolute burden on school librarians and is going to be a nice gateway into the subjective meaning of words like “obscene” and “inappropriate.” I would anticipate lawsuits here, as the former method of opting out of specific books put the work on parents, while this puts the work on school staff.
- The first review of Sex Is a Funny Word is complete at Fremont Public Schools (Nebraska) but they won’t share what the decision was yet because the person who challenged the book needs to get the letter in the mail.