Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) held a press conference with the goal of “exposing the book ban hoax.” DeSantis claimed that “mainstream media, unions, and leftist activists’” were perpetuating a “hoax of empty library bookshelves and political theater.”
He explained that his efforts to remove certain books from school libraries were merely to protect students from “indoctrination” and to remove “pornographic and inappropriate materials that have been snuck into our classrooms and libraries to sexualize our students violate our state education standards.”
A recent report by Popular Information has revealed that Florida schools have interpreted “pornography” so widely that long-beloved books with virtually no nudity whatsoever have been removed from certain libraries.
Popular Information obtained a survey of 23 school districts by the Florida Department of Education. In the press conference, DeSantis said the survey found that 87% of the 175 books removed throughout Florida were considered “pornographic, violent, or inappropriate for their grade level.” But the publication emphasized that the governor’s words were “wildly misleading” and made it seem like pornography was far more pervasive in schools than it actually is.
“By lumping together books that were labeled ‘pornographic, violent, or inappropriate,’ and then focusing on books deemed pornographic, DeSantis grossly distorts the percentage of books removed as ‘pornography,'” the report stated. “The survey reveals just 38 books were removed for violating that state’s pornography law, 22% of the total.”
And many of those books do not actually violate state law, which defines pornography as sexual conduct or nudity that “is harmful to minors.”
Harmful is defined as: ” (a) Predominantly appeals to a prurient, shameful, or morbid interest; (b) Is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable material or conduct for minors; and (c) Taken as a whole, is without serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.”
For example, The Sleeping Beauty by Trina Schart Hyman was banned as pornography from one district because on one page, a character’s buttocks is slightly visible from a distance while she bathes.
Other books deemed “pornographic” have included Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and one well-known Australian children’s book called Guess What? by Mem Fox. In this story, the main character bathes in the sink on a single page, but no private body parts are visible.
The Department of Education Survey also included bans of LGBTQ+ books that schools deemed “pornographic,” including Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe and This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson. Others deemed “inappropriate” for certain grade levels include All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold for its “illustrations of same-sex couples,” as well as Todd Parr’s beloved The Family Book, for teaching kids that “Some families have two moms or two dads.”
DeSantis has championed both the Don’t Say Gay law and the Stop Woke Act. The former prohibits class instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, and the latter aims to limit the instruction of topics related to the history of racism in the U.S.
In addition, Florida’s H.B. 1467, passed last July, requires books made available through school libraries and classroom libraries to be selected by a certified media specialist.
These pieces of legislation have fueled the removal of books about race and LGBTQ+ issues – even ones as innocent as And Tango Makes Three, a children’s picture book about two male penguins who adopt a chick.
Florida Democrats recently trolled DeSantis by launching a campaign to ban his own memoir from public schools in an effort to call attention to the vague and discriminatory state laws that have led school libraries to pull books from their shelves.