Republicans in Idaho have advanced a proposed bill that would allow residents of the state to sue libraries over purportedly obscene content in books on their shelves, if they’re accessible to patrons under 18 years of age, including books that depict a vague definition of homosexual acts.
House Bill 384, introduced by GOP lawmakers earlier this month, expands the state’s obscenity law, which libraries currently are exempt from. If passed, parents could seek civil damages in the amount of $250 per offense from libraries if they believe their children are exposed to harmful material.
Under the obscenity law, which was passed in 1972, “obscene materials” include an ambiguous definition of exposure to “homosexuality.” Critics have noted that, under the newly proposed legislation, something as simple as same-sex hand-holding in a young adult novel could amount to a homosexual act that a library could be sued over.
The proposal would affect nearly every single library in the state, including public and private school libraries, as well as community libraries.
During a legislative hearing on Monday — when most state legislatures across the country were closed for business to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day — a state legislative committee advanced the proposed bill, despite vocal opposition from most of those attending the public hearing. More than 100 attended the hearing, with most of the 18 who spoke saying the bill shouldn’t move forward.
The vote was cast along partisan lines, with all 11 Republicans in the committee voting for advancement and two Democrats voting against.
Idaho librarians were among those who spoke out against the bill during the public comment period.
“Representatives, the homophobia in this bill is blatant. The definition of sexual conduct is incorrect … homosexuality does not equate to obscenity,” said Isabella Burgess, a college student and associate librarian, testifying against the bill on Monday. “It is your choice to sexualize children’s books.”
“Gay people will not go away,” Burgess added. “There will always be families with two moms or two dads seeking out literature that represents them.”
Robert Wright, the director of the Idaho Falls Public Library, also noted that supposed concerns about protecting children among those backing the bill were misguided, as many books that contain sexual imagery can help children who have been abused to seek help, giving them the language they need to describe how they’ve been harmed so they can explain it to adults that they trust.
Wright also stated during his testimony that the exemptions allowed under the proposal — moving supposedly obscene books to adult sections of libraries — were impractical.
“We cannot afford to do this,” he said.
The year 2023 saw a record high number of anti-LGBTQ bills being proposed in state legislatures across the U.S., with the American Civil Liberties Union saying it recorded at least 508 such bills. Of those proposals, 84 were passed into law.
The pace of anti-LGBTQ bills doesn’t seem to be letting up: as of the first few weeks of 2024, over 200 such proposals have already been introduced.
This proposal from Idaho Republicans “serves as a stark reminder that Republicans are not finished targeting LGBTQ+ people in state legislatures nationwide,” said transgender activist and LGBTQ legislation tracker Erin Reed.
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