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Florida School District Orders Librarians To Purge All Books With LGBTQ+ Characters
No guidance on characters you're merely 'pretty sure about.'
Public school librarians in Florida’s Charlotte County School District were ordered by their superintendent to completely cleanse the district’s libraries of all books containing LGBTQ+ “characters or themes,” in an effort to enforce Florida’s “Parental Rights In Education, Just Not For Gay Parents Or Parents Of Gay Kids” Act, AKA “Don’t Say Gay.”
As Judd Legum reports in his Popular Information newsletter, Superintendent Mark Vianello offered the “guidance” to Charlotte County school librarians in conversation that was transcribed in a July 24 document obtained by the nonprofit Florida Freedom to Read Project through a public records request. Vianello and the school board’s attorney, Michael McKinley, answered librarians’ questions about what amount of gay is allowed in the schools’ libraries. The answer came back quite clearly: Zero LGBT+ tolerance.
[Q:] Are we removing books from any school or media center, PreK-12 if a character has, for example, two mothers or because there is a gay best friend or a main character is gay?
Vianello also offered helpful corrections to any misperceptions, like the idea that books with LGBTQ+ characters might somehow be allowed if the characters don’t engage in any activities that might be considered even remotely “sexual,” like kissing or joining a softball team.
[Q:] Novels to be used in courses or in the media centers with LBGTQ+ characters are acceptable as long as they do not have explicit sex scenes or sexual descriptions and are not approaching "how to" manuals for how to be an LGBTQ+ person. [underlined in original — Dok]
Vianello: No. Books with LBGTQ+ characters are not to be included in classroom libraries or school library media centers.
As Legum explains, the librarians were trying to make sense of a revised version of the Florida Department of Education’s “Principles of Professional Conduct” for educators. That document was updated earlier this year to expand the “Don’t Say Gay” rules beyond the 2022 law’s initial scope, which banned “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in Pre-K through third grade, but only required that such materials be age or developmentally “appropriate” for higher grades.
The new conduct rules, in accord with an updated law passed by the Florida Lege and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May, specify that educators “Shall not intentionally provide classroom instruction to students in prekindergarten through grade 8 on sexual orientation or gender identity,” except where other laws may require it. High schoolers — at least when not watching porn on their phones — are similarly shielded from any classroom mention of “sexual orientation or gender identity,” unless state standards require it, or if they’re in a health or sex-ed class that the student’s parent can opt them out of.
DeSantis has gotten very pissy whenever anyone suggests that the law forbids any mention at all of gay people or that it’s leading to book banning. He insists that such claims are a “hoax,” even though it’s exactly what’s happening in school districts all over Florida. Rather, he proclaimed, the law was needed to eliminate
pornographic and inappropriate materials that have been snuck into our classrooms and libraries to sexualize our students violate our state education standards.
Funny thing: in practice, schools all over the state are removing everything, although it appears Charlotte County Schools are the first to actually put it in writing anywhere. Here’s another fun librarian scenario, which we especially enjoyed because Vianello so sharply points out the librarian’s wrongthink in framing the question at all:
[Q:] If a student asks a teacher about a gay character in a novel being studied, and neither gender [identity or] sexual orientation is part of the standards for that course, the teacher will instruct the student to ask that question of their parents and will direct the conversation back to the standards of the course as they relate to the novel being studied.
Vianello: Correct, but again, novels with gay characters are not to be included in classroom libraries — “err on the side of caution.” Sexual orientation/gender identity is prohibited in Pre-K — grade 8. For 9-12, no as well, unless supported by the state academic standards.
Well sure, teachers should of course refer such questions to parents, but they won’t have to because there will be no gay characters anyway. Notice also that “err on the side of caution,” which translates to a mandate to pull any book that you even suspect has LGBTQ+ characters or themes. No Rainbows Anywhere.
(We’d have added “no points for Hufflepuff,” but we honestly aren’t sure whether JK Rowling’s retroactive decision that Dumbledore is gay means Charlotte County pulled the most popular YA series ever written, or if it’s being kept since she’s turned out to be a transphobic crank.)
The blanket erasure of LGBTQ+ content envisioned by the Charlotte County Schools leadership isn’t simply limited to books in the library or in teachers’ classroom libraries. Even books kids might bring from home must be subject to the Inquisition. Nothing chilling about this answer:
[Q:] Teachers need to be aware of what their students are reading for silent sustained reading in class, or book reports, or anything involving instruction, even if it is student-selected to ensure they are not violating this rule. In other words, to ensure LGBTQ characters or themes do not exist — or can they exist, but not cross into pornographic territory?
Vianello: These characters and themes cannot exist.
This is eerily similar to an exchange between Winston Smith and O’Brien in George Orwell’s 1984:
“Does Big Brother exist?”
“Of course he exists. The Party exists. Big Brother if the embodiment of the Party.”
“Does he exist like you or me?”
“You do not exist,” said O’Brien.
Gosh, why are those liberal whiners complaining about “LGBTQ+ erasure”? That’s impossible, because in Charlotte County Schools, these characters and themes cannot exist, so there’s nothing to erase.
Legum notes that, as with the banning of the Gay Penguin Book (Wonkette cut link), that a lot of school districts are going well beyond what Florida educational officials claim are the limits of the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which the Florida Attorney General’s Office has said in legal filings “does not even arguably restrict library books.” In Lake County, that was enough to return the gay penguins to school library shelves, although the book remains banned in other districts.
The Florida Department of Education has been no help at all; after releasing the conduct rules, it has left school districts and their attorneys to guess at what’s allowed and what isn’t, leading administrators to say they must “err on the side of caution” to avoid getting sued, which could result in heavy fines and loss of teaching credentials.
Legum notes in an update that a spokesperson for Charlotte County Schools sent a statement to “clarify” the district’s policy:
Books featuring LGBTQ characters are accessible in the media center for grades 9-12. While they may not be utilized for classroom instruction, these books are available for individual study and can be borrowed by students. The document … served as a training resource, and the discussion accompanying it provided further guidance to educators.
We still have questions, though. For starters, what about nonfiction books for PreK through eighth grade? Obviously, no biographies of LGBTQ people, but do books about the space program have to be pulled if they include a mention of Sally Ride, NASA’s first woman astronaut? She seems like a prime example of a “character” who needs to be banned solely for her identity, even if she didn’t make it public until she died. Does the ban extend to LGBTQ+ authors like that Whitman fellow and all his singing of himself — again, nothing explicit in his poetry, but gloriously gay as all get out.
For that matter, will middle schoolers be forbidden from reading “news papers” (we hear they still exist) to ensure they never see the name of the US secretary of Transportation? Ask your parents about those airline regulations, kids, the end.
[Popular Information / Image: dopey Wonkette Fair Use photoshoop]
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