A Republican Missouri state lawmaker wants to eradicate Drag Queen Story Hours in the state by fining or jailing librarians who allow minors to access “age-inappropriate sexual materials.”
Last week, Rep. Ben Baker filed House Bill 2044, which he is calling the “Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act.”
“In some places — St. Louis, Kansas City and I think St. (Joseph) — they’ve had these drag queen story hours and that’s something that I take objection to and I think a lot of parents do,” Baker told the Kansas City Star. “That’s where in a public space, our kids could be exposed to something that’s age-inappropriate. That’s what I’m trying to tackle.
“Some of those events are open from ages 1 to teen years,” Baker added. “I don’t think a 2-, 3-, 4-year-old is prepared to grapple with those ideas and I don’t think they should be subjected to that just by walking through the library.”
According to the Star, “Baker took it one step further by alleging the story hours to be a public safety issue, saying they have ‘drawn child predators, pedophiles’ in the past.”
Here’s how Baker’s bill defines “age-inappropriate sexual material”:
Baker’s proposal would require Missouri’s public libraries to establish parental review boards, which would hold public hearings before determining “whether any sexual material provided to the public … is age-inappropriate sexual material.”
The boards could then order that “age-inappropriate sexual material” be made inaccessible to minors. Any library staff member who violated such an order would face misdemeanor charges and up to one year in jail. And public libraries that run afoul of the law would lose state funding.
Hemant Mehta at the Friendly Atheist notes that the ramifications of Baker’s bill would likely go beyond Drag Queen Story Hour:
In theory, then, a heavily Christian community could elect a board that says books featuring LGBTQ characters are “inappropriate.” And then if librarians allow kids to check out Heather Has Two Mommies or I Am Jazz — books meant to help kids understand LGBTQ identities — they would be severely punished for it. All because a group of conservative parents with sticks up their asses decide to play censor instead of letting kids follow their own curiosity or deferring to the wisdom and expertise of professional librarians.
This could also backfire. Can you imagine the outcry if a progressive community elects a group of parents who decide to ban child checkouts of all Christian books — including the Bible itself — because the text is full of incest and rape?
James Tager, PEN America’s deputy director of free expression research and policy, told the Washington Post that Baker’s bill is an attempt “a shockingly transparent attempt to legalize book banning in the state of Missouri.”
“This act is clearly aimed at empowering small groups of parents to appoint themselves as censors over their state’s public libraries,” Tager said. “Books wrestling with sexual themes, books uplifting LGBTQIA+ characters, books addressing issues such as sexual assault — all of these books are potentially on the chopping block if this bill is passed.”
Tager added that “every reader and writer in the country should be horrified, absolutely horrified, at this bill.”