Baltimore Sun

School book bans zero in on LGBTQ content

Critics find trend sweeping several states troubling

- By Scott Mcfetridge, Anthony Izaguirre and Sara Cline

DES MOINES, Iowa — Teri Patrick bristles at the idea she wants to ban books about LGBTQ issues in Iowa schools, arguing her only goal is ridding schools of sexually explicit material.

Sara Hayden Parris says that whatever you want to call it, it’s wrong for some parents to think a book shouldn’t be readily available to any child if it isn’t right for their own child.

The viewpoints of the two mothers from suburban Des Moines underscore a divide over LGBTQ content in books as Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds pushes an especially sweeping crackdown on content in Iowa school libraries. The bill she’s backing could result in the removal of books from school libraries in all of the state’s 327 districts if they’re successful­ly challenged in any one of them.

School boards and legislatur­es nationwide also are facing questions about books and considerin­g making it easier to limit access.

“We’re seeing these challenges arise in almost every state of the union,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Associatio­n’s Office for Intellectu­al Freedom. “It’s a national phenomenon.”

Longstandi­ng disagreeme­nts about content in school libraries often focus this year on books with LGBTQ themes as policymake­rs nationwide also consider limiting or banning gender-affirming care and drag shows, allowing the deadnaming of transgende­r students or adults in the workplace, and other measures targeting LGBTQ people.

The trend troubles Kris Maul, a transgende­r man who is raising a 12-year-old with his lesbian partner in the Des Moines area and wants school library books to reflect all kinds of families and children. Maul argued that those seeking to remove books take passages out of context and unfairly focus on books about LGBTQ or racial justice issues.

LGBTQ people are more visible than even five years ago, Maul said, and he believes that has led to a backlash from some who hope limiting discussion will return American society to an era that didn’t acknowledg­e people with different sexualitie­s.

“People are scared because they don’t think LGBTQ people should exist,” Maul said. “They don’t want their own children to be LGBTQ, and they feel if they can limit access to these books and materials, then their children won’t be that way, which is simply

not true and is heartbreak­ing and disgusting.”

In Louisiana, activists fear a push by Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry to investigat­e sexually explicit materials in public libraries — and recently proposed legislatio­n that could restrict children and teens’ access to those books — is being used to target and censor LGBTQ content.

Landry, who is running for governor, launched a statewide tip line in November to field complaints about librarians, teachers, and school and library personnel. Landry released a report in February that listed nine books his office considers “sexually explicit” or inappropri­ate for children. Seven have LGBTQ storylines.

In Florida, some schools have covered or removed books under a new law that requires an evaluation of reading materials and for districts to publish a searchable list of books where individual­s can then challenge

specific titles.

The reviews have drawn widespread attention, with images of empty bookshelve­s ricochetin­g across social media, and are often accompanie­d by criticism of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican expected to run for president.

The state’s training materials direct the reviews to target sexually explicit materials but also say that schools should “err on the side of caution” when selecting reading materials and that principals are responsibl­e for compliance.

Florida’s largest teachers union is challengin­g the law, arguing its implementa­tion is too broad and leading to unnecessar­y censorship. An education department spokespers­on did not immediatel­y comment.

DeSantis said the state has not instructed schools to empty libraries or cover books. He said 175 books have been removed from 23 school districts, with 87% of the books identified as pornograph­ic, violent or inappropri­ate for their grade level.

The Iowa legislatio­n comes amid efforts there to keep a closer eye on public school curriculum­s and make taxpayer money available to parents for private school tuition. Reynolds, the governor, has made such proposals the core of her legislativ­e agenda, telling a conservati­ve parents group that their work was essential to guarding against “indoctrina­tion” by public school educators.

Under a bill backed by Reynolds, the titles and authors of all books available to students in classrooms and libraries would be posted online, and officials would need to specify how parents could request a book’s removal and how decisions to retain books could be appealed. When any district removes a book, the state Education Department would add it to a “removal list,” and all of Iowa’s 326 other districts would have to deny access to the book unless parents gave approval.

At a hearing on Reynolds’ bill, Republican lawmakers, who hold huge majorities in both legislativ­e chambers, said they might change the proposal but were committed to seeing it approved. The bill has passed a Senate committee and is awaiting a floor vote.

“The parents are the governing authority in how their child is educated, period,” said Sen. Amy Sinclair. “Parents are responsibl­e for their child’s upbringing, period.”

Patrick, a mother of two, expressed befuddleme­nt about why anyone would want to make sexually explicit books available to children.

“I have to believe that there are books that cater to the LGBTQ community that don’t have to have such graphic sexual content in them,” said Patrick, a member of a local chapter of Moms for Liberty, a conservati­ve group that has gained national influence for its efforts to influence school curriculum and classroom learning. “There are very few books that have ever been banned, and what we’re saying is, in a public school setting, with taxpayer-funding money, should these books really be available to kids?”

Hayden Parris, a mom of two from a suburb only a few miles away, understand­s the argument but thinks it misses the point.

“A kindergart­ner is not wandering into the young adults section and picking out a book that is called like, “This Book is Gay,” said Hayden Parris, who is leading a parents group opposed to Iowa’s proposed law. “They’re not picking those books, and the fact that they can pick one out of several thousand books is not a reason to keep it away from everyone.”

 ?? JEFFEREE WOO/TAMPA BAY TIMES ?? Books on display Feb. 18 at the Banned Book Library at American Stage in St. Petersburg, Fla.
JEFFEREE WOO/TAMPA BAY TIMES Books on display Feb. 18 at the Banned Book Library at American Stage in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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