Republican lawmakers in North Dakota have introduced a bill that would jail librarians for keeping books on their shelves that include images depicting gender identity or sexual orientation.
House Bill 1205, introduced by Republican state Reps. Mike Lefor and Vicky Steiner, would prohibit books at public libraries that include images of sexual activity, including sexual intercourse. The bill would also ban books that are “sexually explicit,” and includes under that vague terminology any books with images related to gender identity or LGBTQ themes — topics that are not considered “sexually explicit” by most legal definitions.
If the bill were to pass and be enforced as law, librarians would be punished for having such books available. Any librarian caught in noncompliance with the law would face up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of $1,500.
Books that discuss “works of art that…have serious artistic significance,” books that are specifically dedicated to biology, anatomy or physiology, and books used for sexual education classes would be exempt from the rule.
The proposed legislation would only ban books with illustrations of the above-mentioned topics.
House Bill 1205 “would ban from public libraries ALL books that include ANY depiction of gay or trans humans. This is monstrously evil,” children’s book author Phil Bildner said on Twitter.
Harvard Law School clinical instructor Alejandra Caraballo agreed.
“Anything written” about LGBTQ issues or sex “would not be banned,” Caraballo noted. “However, any picture depicting ‘gender identity’ would be banned. This could presumably apply to the trans pride flag on the cover of a book.”
Librarians and LGBTQ advocates have pointed out that the bill amounts to censorship, and that its vague parameters could enable residents to push for bans on titles beyond what the legislation calls for.
Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library Director Christine Kujawa wondered how libraries, with thousands of titles in their collections, could tackle what the bill would require of them.
“The answer is, we can’t and shouldn’t,” Kujawa said during public comments on the bill earlier this week. “Citizens should have the freedom to choose the information they want to access. In the case of minors, parents are responsible for this, not the government.”
The North Dakota Library Association also voiced its disapproval of the bill, saying in a statement that:
We stand opposed to censorship and any effort to coerce belief, suppress opinion, or punish those whose expression does not conform to what is deemed to be orthodox in history, politics, or belief. The unfettered exchange of ideas is essential to the preservation of a free and democratic society.
The bill is yet another attack on LGBTQ children in the state. Republicans in North Dakota have introduced a slew of proposals this month that would harm LGBTQ children, including legislation that would forbid organizations or groups that receive government aid from using the correct pronouns to refer to trans people, including in school settings.
For children seeking out books with LGBTQ themes, inclusion and representation are significant, LGBTQ advocates say. In some cases, representation can be life-saving, according to Sam Ames, the director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project.
“Deeply closeted and terrified of what coming out might subject them to,” students who read books with LGBTQ characters or information relevant to their lives “study the evidence that a future for someone like them is possible,” Ames said in an op-ed published in July. “They get to see not only their reflection, but their survival.”