Parental oversight of libraries hinders LGBTQ+ youth

Alison Overcash, Reporter

In January, Missouri Rep. Ben Baker (R-106th) filed the Parental Oversight of Libraries bill, which would require public libraries to establish parental review boards that would prevent minors from accessing what they determine to be “age-inappropriate sexual materials.”

The boards, which according to the bill would consist of “five adult residents of the public library’s geographical area,” elected for two-year terms, would hear concerns from the community and determine whether each piece of questioned material is age-inappropriate.

Any material that describes or represents “nudity, sexuality, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse” and “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors” would be removed from public access by minors, according to the bill.

As an employee of a public library, I have been taught to challenge censorship since day one at my job. All of the public libraries in my area support the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read statement and the Library Bill of Rights.

“The American Library Association opposes all attempts to restrict access to library services, materials, and facilities based on the age of library users,” according to Access to Library Resources and Services for Minors: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights on the ALA website. “Libraries and their governing bodies shall ensure that only parents and guardians have the right and the responsibility to determine their children’s—and only their children’s—access to library resources.”

The Parental Oversight of Libraries bill is therefore in clear violation of the Library Bill of Rights. Furthermore, in the Freedom to Read statement, the ALA expresses their belief that parents, and teachers have a responsibility to encourage children to think critically for themselves and should promote access to the diversity of the human experience.

“These are affirmative responsibilities, not to be discharged simply by preventing them from reading works for which they are not yet prepared,” stated the ALA in the Freedom to Read statement. “In these matters taste differs, and taste cannot be legislated; nor can machinery be devised which will suit the demands of one group without limiting the freedom of others.”

Despite the large-scale implications of a bill that violates these principles, the thing about the bill that scares me the most is the inclusion of the word sexuality. It is true that the demands of the bill would limit the freedom of the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, the bill arose in response to events like “Drag Queen Story Hour” in Houston, Baker said in an interview with the Neosho Daily News.

Board members would have the power to restrict any content that even mentions the LGBTQ+ community. This erasure would be particularly harmful to LGBTQ+ youth, who would then not be able to see themselves represented in the media they are consuming.

Picture this: a nervous 13-year-old boy rides his bike to the library. He sneakily searches and finds a book that might explain these confusing emotions he’s been experiencing about the boys in his class. He thinks there might be something wrong with him.

He uses the self-checkout so the librarians can’t see what he’s checking out, but an alert message comes up after scanning the book, “This is restricted material. See a librarian for assistance.” He has to get home quickly, so he can’t stay and read the book at the library. He returns the book to the shelf and rides home, embarrassed and discouraged.

That could be anyone’s son, daughter or a child who thinks they might be neither. As a former scared child and as a future librarian, I can only hope that one day I will be allowed to provide the youth in my community with the resources they need regardless of their age, just as I have been trained to.

Fortunately, I am not the only one who feels this way. According to Baker in the Neosho Daily News, his bill was met with “hypocritical outrage by the left,” including death threats.

The bill, which was introduced on Jan. 8 and read for the second time on Jan. 9, does not have another hearing scheduled according to the House calendar as of March 16.

If you want to voice your opinion on the bill, call Vic Allred (R-13th), the Missouri State House Representative representing Platte County at 573-751-9781, or call your local Missouri state representative.