Idaho lawmakers’ ‘secret file’ in harmful books debate


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A librarian puts the books back on the shelves at the Boise Public Library on Tuesday.

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Members of the Idaho House on Monday passed a bill that would hold schools, colleges, universities and libraries responsible for distributing material “harmful” to minors. Before approving the bill, lawmakers circulated a “super secret file,” which contained passages and images from books they deemed inappropriate for children.

Lawmakers called it obscene and disgusting and referenced the record several times during the debate to demonstrate why they needed to take action to prevent children from having access to documents like those included.

“It was so obscene I can’t see it,” Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, said during a House debate. “I would rather my 6 year old grandson start smoking cigarettes tomorrow than see this stuff once in the public library or somewhere else.”

The file, obtained by the Idaho statesman, showed excerpts from seven books dealing with gender identity, sexual orientation and sexual abuse, as well as a children’s book on health sexual.

Several of the books discussed the experiences of people who identified as LGBTQ. Others, including graphic novels, showed illustrations depicting sex. One of the books was the popular young adult novel, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

The first book on the docket was a graphic novel called “Gender Queer,” a memoir by Maia Kobabe that has become controversial in other states for what people say are inappropriate and graphic images. The brief given to lawmakers included only a few pages of the book, which showed illustrations of LGBTQ sexual experiences.

Proponents of the bill said it was important to keep inappropriate and pornographic content out of the reach of children. They stressed the importance of protecting children in the community.

“I think we’re just asking that those who are responsible for the materials in our libraries, or in the museums, or in the other places that are listed in this code be treated with sensitivity and responsibility. There needs to be more vigilance,” said Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, who sponsored the legislation.

DeMordaunt did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Librarians could face jail time or a $1,000 fine

Librarians told lawmakers last week that, taken out of context, many books may seem harmful to children.

Lawmakers said there were other ways to make sure the right materials were in libraries without leading to jail time for librarians.

“People said it wasn’t about throwing librarians in jail. That’s actually exactly what it’s all about,” said House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise. “This is to expose librarians to being thrown in jail for library materials.”

At the start of the debate, Rubel commented on Judy Blume’s “Forever,” which she said depicts “a teenager who gets erections, masturbates, and has wet dreams.” She said it’s intended for a younger audience to introduce these concepts and asked if it would go against the bill. During her comment, the chair was asked to put the House at ease.

Idaho law essentially does not define harmful materials. Idaho’s code states that a person is guilty of distributing such content that includes “nudity, sexual conduct, or sado-masochistic abuse” or “any other material harmful to minors.”

The penalty for spreading harmful material includes up to one year in prison and up to $1,000 in fines.

Here’s what the “secret file” included

Kobabe, who uses the pronouns “e” and “em,” said in an interview with Northern Virginia Magazine that he was inspired to create the novel after having “frustrating” conversations with people when he appeared for the first time as non-binary and was trying to express what gender meant to them.

In the interview, Kobabe described the book as a “long letter to my parents and extended family” with the aim of helping them understand.

Another book in the legislator’s docket was “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie H. Harris, a children’s book about sexual health. The book was first published in 1994, but has had several anniversary editions published since. It has repeatedly appeared on the American Library Association’s list of most disputed books due to claims that it shows sexually explicit images.

The pages included in the folder showed illustrations of different body shapes, as well as illustrations of sex between same-sex couples.

Also on the dossier was “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky, which is also on the most disputed book list. The file included a few pages from the coming of age book that included sexual content.

A few images from Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home”, a 2006 graphic memoir about Bechdel’s childhood, have been included. The book details Bechdel’s relationship with his father and addresses issues such as suicide and abuse.

The other books in the dossier were “Not All the Boys Are Blue,” a “memoir manifesto” by George M. Johnson with essays about Johnson’s childhood and his growth as a queer black man; “Dreaming in Cuba”, by Cristina García, a story of three family generations that begins in Cuba in the early 1930s; and Ellen Hopkins’ “Identical,” a twin story that tackles issues of sexual abuse, female circumcision, drugs and alcohol.

Boise librarian says books should be well balanced

Of the titles included in the filing, three are in the adult section of the Boise Public Library, including “Gender Queer,” “Fun Home” and “Dreaming in Cuban,” said Kathy Stalder, acquisitions and technical services. senior. The only copy of “Dreaming in Cuban” the library has is in the Spanish language collection.

Stalder said the library has all titles in at least one format, including eBooks and audiobooks. But the books in the lawmakers’ docket span a wide range of collections, and many of them were published several years ago.

“I think what’s kind of appalling to me is that it’s such a wide range of titles,” she told the Statesman. “And if these are the titles that cause the most concern, hard to know then, what would be OK in a collection?”

When libraries choose books for their collections, they consult resources that review the materials, such as a variety of professional journals, and try to determine which collection the materials would be best suited for. They want a collection that is comprehensive and relevant to the community, Stalder said.

That means libraries will have materials that speak to experiences that may be unknown to some, she said, which may include books about LGBTQ people’s experiences.

“We want it to be a mirror for people’s lives so they can read a book and realize, ‘Oh, this is really similar to my life,'” Stalder said. “We also want it to be a window for people to get a glimpse of something they may not have experienced before. Our collection should be very large.

It also includes books on sexual health. Stalder said not all children are comfortable talking to their parents about the topic, and not all parents are comfortable talking to their child about sexual health. Parents are often the source of requests for sexual health books, such as “It’s perfectly normal,” she said, adding that it’s up to a parent to decide if they want their child to access these titles.

If people have a problem with a library book, they can submit a reconsideration request if they want the library to reconsider something in the collection. This triggers a process, and the library then sends a formal response.

She noted that, taken out of context, many books can be considered “obscene or disgusting”.

“There are always pushes and pulls, and that’s where it gets really subjective and difficult for librarians to try to be able to provide the best possible service to their entire community with safeguards removed,” she said. “It’s hard to know why we could potentially get in trouble. … It’s hard to know for sure what lawmakers hope to achieve with this bill.

Becca Savransky covers education for the Idaho Statesman in partnership with Report for America. The position is partially funded by community support. Click here to donate.

This story was originally published March 8, 2022 12:50 p.m.

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Becca Savransky covers the Idaho statesman’s upbringing. She is a member of the Report for America corps whose position is partially funded by community donations. Click here to donate to help fund his position. Becca is a graduate of Northwestern University and previously worked at Seattlepi.com and The Hill.
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