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School Library Book Bans are Seen as Targeting LGBTQ Content

Jennifer Wilson, a Largo High School English teacher
Jennifer Wilson, a Largo High School English teacher, wears a shirt against banning books at the Pinellas County School Board meeting in Largo, Fla., Feb. 14, 2023. 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. (Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times via AP)


DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — 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

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

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

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.”

Sam Helmick, president of the Iowa Library Association, said communities should decide what’s in their
libraries and that it’s important for children to have access to books that address their lives and
questions. Helmick didn’t have that ability as a child, and students shouldn’t return to that time, she

“Can we acknowledge that this will have a chilling effect?” Helmick asked. “And when you tell me that
books about myself as an asexual, nonbinary person who didn’t have those books in libraries when I was
a kid to pick up and flip through, but now publishing has caught up with me and I can see
representation of me — those will be behind the desk and that’s not supposed to make me feel less
welcome, less seen and less represented in my library?”


Izaguirre reported from Tallahassee, Florida, and Cline from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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