News (USA)

Texas governor signs “sexually explicit” book ban in schools

Greg Abbott surrounded by Chick-fil-A
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) surrounded by Chick-fil-A Photo: Twitter/Greg Abbott

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has signed into law a ban on “sexually explicit” material in the state’s public schools.

“I’m signing a law that gets that trash out of our schools,” Abbott said on Monday, according to the Fort Worth Star-Tribune.

According to the Associated Press, the law requires the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to create new mandatory standards for school libraries, including a rating system to restrict or ban certain books. Book vendors will have to rate books as either “sexually relevant” or “sexually explicit” based on depictions or references to sex in order to sell materials to school districts. Books previously sold to schools that are deemed “sexually explicit” will be recalled.  

The law defines “sexually explicit material” as “any communication, language, or material, including a written description, illustration, photographic image, video image, or audio file, other than library material directly related to” curriculum required under the state’s Education Code, “that describes, depicts, or portrays sexual conduct… in a way that is patently offensive” as defined by the state’s penal code.

“Sexually relevant material,” which the law defines as material not deemed “patently offensive” under the Texas penal code, will remain available for students to check out with a parent’s permission.  

According to a report from PEN America released in April, Texas is one of five states in which book bans were most prevalent during the 2022–2023 school year. The free speech organization, which advocates for access to literature, found that book bans and censorship in school libraries and classrooms had escalated since its last report in 2022.

“Overwhelmingly, book banners continue to target stories by and about people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals,” the 2023 report stated. During the six-month period covered in the most recent report, 30 percent of the books banned in schools dealt with issues of race and racism or featured characters of color, while 28 percent featured LGBTQ+ characters or themes.

In 2021, former Texas state Rep. Matt Krause (R) sent a letter to the Texas Education Agency, in addition to some school district superintendents, that included a list of 850 books under investigation. Many of the books on the list dealt with LGBTQ+ themes or issues related to race and racism. Abbott supported Krause’s campaign to investigate the books.

The new law banning “sexually explicit” books was one of four “parental empowerment” bills signed by Abbott this week. Across the country, the issue of “parental rights” in education has been used as a pretext by conservatives to ban books and limit or ban classroom instruction on LGBTQ+ issues and topics related to the history of racism in the U.S. In its recent report on book bans, PEN America described the campaign to foment anxiety and anger over public education as an ongoing, nationwide “Ed Scare.”

“As book bans escalate, coupled with the proliferation of legislative efforts to restrict teaching about topics such as race, gender, American history, and LGBTQ+ identities, the freedom to read, learn, and think continues to be undermined for students,” according to the report.

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