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School district may ban biography of Pete Buttigieg to comply with anti-LGBTQ+ book ban law

Pete Buttigieg
Pete Buttigieg Photo: Shutterstock

An Iowa school district is considering removing 374 books from its libraries — including classics like 1984 and The Color Purple — because they may violate a new state law banning LGBTQ+ and sex-related content from schools. One free speech advocate called the list “shocking and sickening,” and a queer school board member called it “incredibly offensive.” One of the books on the list is a children’s biography of out Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, possibly just because he’s gay.

The Urbandale Community School District, which contains the capital city of Des Moines, created its list of books that may possibly violate S.F. 496. The law bans instruction on LGBTQ+ identities through sixth grade and all books containing sex acts.

Because many classic literary titles mention sex, the list contains well-known titles like Ulysses, The Catcher in the Rye, Brave New World, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and The Color Purple. It also contains numerous LGBTQ+-themed children’s picture books like And Tango Makes Three and Heather Has Two Mommies.

After legislators passed S.F. 496 in late May, the Iowa Department of Education promised to give schools guidance on how to apply the new law, but no such guidance has been offered, a district spokesperson said. As such, the school compiled its list using lists of challenged books from states with similar laws.

Not all of the books on the list are offered in the district’s schools, but their inclusion would forbid teachers from buying and offering them to students. The list also contains some books that have been on district shelves for decades without complaint. Any banned books would go to a district storage facility where educators can access them.

“I’m familiar enough with lists from other states that I wasn’t necessarily surprised,” said Sara Hayden Parris, a district parent who founded the anti-book-banning organization Annie’s Foundation, told the Des Moines Register. “But it’s still shocking and sickening to see the books on there.”

Dan Gutmann, a queer Urbandale School Board member, told the aforementioned publication that he found the list “problematic,” especially since it banned children’s books like Mayor Pete (a picture book about Buttigieg) and other books that reflect LGBTQ+ people and queer-inclusive families like his own.

“I was a child sitting in an elementary school at one point. I’m also the father of a student,” Gutmann said. “I take offense to the idea that my family is age-inappropriate. I find that incredibly offensive.”

About one-third of the 1,586 books banned from schools nationwide have LGBTQ+ themes and characters, according to a report from the free-speech organization PEN America.

The bans have largely come from Republican politicians, conservative school boards, and so-called “parents’ rights” groups that have opposed such content as “woke indoctrination” that’s “inappropriate” for school children. In 98 percent of cases, the school districts didn’t follow First Amendment protections to ensure that government officials don’t ban or punish free speech, PEN America reported.

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