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U.S. House Republicans target ‘explicit’ books in school libraries

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Ariana Figueroa

(Colorado Newsline) Republicans and Democrats on the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee split at a Thursday hearing about whether some books containing LGBTQ+ content should be removed from public school libraries.

Democrats criticized the hearing as leaning into culture war topics to attack public education, and said that those tactics resulted in book bans. Republicans argued that books were not being banned because those that are removed at public schools can be bought elsewhere.

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“These censorship laws are being enacted by extreme MAGA politicians under the pretext of parental rights when in reality it’s a coordinated, and apparently well-funded, vocal minority of parents and conservative organizations pushing their own personal agenda on others,” the top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon, said

More book bans have occurred in Florida, the home state of the panel’s chair, Republican Rep. Aaron Bean, than any other state. Bean encouraged parents to challenge books with “explicit content” at local school board meetings.

For the 2022-23 school year, more than 40% of U.S. book bans occurred in the Sunshine State, with 1,406 book bans, according to a report by PEN America, a group that is dedicated to fighting book bans and advocates for the First Amendment.

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Bean argued that the books are not being removed because they tell stories about the LGBTQ+ community, but because “it’s explicit content.”

“Inappropriate books are in school libraries, and local communities are within their rights to remove them,” he said.

Bean added that books are not banned because the books could be bought on Amazon.

“If you can order a book from Amazon and order it to your home the next day, it’s not banned,” Bean said. “In fact, the most removed books are still widely popular on Amazon.”

In the last few years, there has been an unprecedented wave of book bans and censorship spurred by parents and right-wing groups to target books that center on the LGBTQ+ community, Black history and diverse stories.

I can tell you that three years ago, four years ago there was nothing like this on the scene ... Something changed. A movement to encourage people to try to censor information and ideas. – Jonathan Friedman, of PEN America

Many of the book bans started during the early days of the pandemic in 2020, part of frustration over mask mandates and online learning that eventually led to the politicization of school board meetings.

One of the witnesses tapped by Democrats was Jonathan Friedman, the director of free expression and education programs at PEN America.

Friedman said that PEN America has been doing research on book bans “on and off for about 100 years as these issues have flared up.”

“I can tell you that three years ago, four years ago there was nothing like this on the scene,” he said. “Something changed. A movement to encourage people to try to censor information and ideas.”

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One of the groups that has been opening local chapters across the U.S. and lobbying school boards to ban certain books is Moms for Liberty.

One of the Republican witnesses, Lindsey Smith, is the chair for the Montgomery County, Maryland, chapter of Moms for Liberty.

“This is about the innocence and protection of our children,” she said.

Two of the books that Republicans focused on were “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” by George M. Johnson and “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” by Maia Kobabe.

Utah GOP Rep. Burgess Owens criticized “All Boys Aren’t Blue” for containing incest. The book, which is a young adult nonfiction memoir with essays about Johnson’s life growing up as a queer Black man in New Jersey and Virginia, has a section where the author talks about how a family member sexually assaulted him when he was a child.

The other book, “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” a young adult comic book by Kobabe about Kobabe’s path to gender-identity as nonbinary and queer. Republicans argued that the book was inappropriate because it depicts oral sex.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.