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GOP bill would throw librarians in prison if they don’t remove books about sexual or gender identity

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North Dakota lawmakers are considering legislation to ban books containing “sexually explicit” content from public libraries. Under the proposed law, librarians who refuse to remove books containing such content, which includes depictions of “sexual identity” and “gender identity” as well as “sexual preference,” “sexual intercourse,” and “sexual perversion,” would face 30 days in prison and a $1,500 fine.

The state’s Republican-dominated House Judiciary Committee heard arguments over the bill, introduced by House Majority Leader Mike Lefor (R), on Tuesday but did not take a vote.

Lefor claimed that public libraries contain books featuring “disturbing and disgusting” content and argued that a child’s exposure to such content has been associated with addiction, poor self-esteem, devalued intimacy, increasing divorce rates, unprotected sex among young people, and poor well-being without offering any evidence to support those claims, NBC News reports.

The North Dakota bill is just the latest move by Republican lawmakers across the country to ban books dealing with sexual and gender identity, which they characterize as “sexually explicit,” from libraries. As has been repeatedly noted by opponents of this type of legislation, although all people have sexual and gender identities, these bans often specifically target content dealing with LGBTQ+ characters and issues.

Lefor cited the graphic novel Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human as the reason he introduced the bill.

“I think the content of it is disgusting, that at the very least public libraries should put it in a restricted area where [children] need to get permission from their parents to take a book out like this, but they’re offering it to junior high school kids… and when we grew up, we didn’t need things like this,” he told The Bismarck Tribune. “This is not a way to raise our kids, and we have to do everything we can to make sure that this doesn’t get into the hands of children, especially without their parents’ knowledge.”

The bill reportedly would not apply to “works of art that, when taken as a whole, have serious artistic significance, or works of anthropological significance, or materials used in science courses, including materials used in biology, anatomy, physiology, or sexual education classes.”

Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library Director Christine Kujawa said that Lefor’s bill and a similar one introduced by state Sen. Todd Beard (R) promote censorship. The bills, she said, have “been drafted with vague and open-ended language, which leaves the door open for unintended consequences and room for interpretation.”

She said that the bill would even ban a book about two male hamsters that get married in the end. “It’s a cute book,” she said, noting that it would be considered pornography if Lefor’s bill passes.

“Citizens should have the freedom to choose the information they want to access,” she continued, adding that it unreasonable for libraries to monitor their extensive collections for objectionable content. “In the case of minors, parents are responsible for this, not the government. Not in North Dakota, in the United States, a state and country so rightfully proud of a representative democracy.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota called Lefor’s bill “a blatant attempt at censorship, pure and simple.”

“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 North Dakota Library Association said in a statement. “The unfettered exchange of ideas is essential to the preservation of a free and democratic society.”

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