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Virginia’s book ban law will no longer explicitly target homosexuality

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Virginia just removed homosexuality from the state’s definition of “sexual conduct,” a term that is used in various laws, including a recently passed law informing parents about “sexually explicit” books in schools.

The state’s definition of “sexual conduct” once included “actual or explicitly simulated acts of masturbation, homosexuality, sexual intercourse, or physical contact in an act of apparent sexual stimulation or gratification with a person’s clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or, if such be female, breast.”

This year, Democratic lawmakers had repeatedly and unsuccessfully introduced bills to remove homosexuality from the definition. However, state Sen. Scott A. Surovell (D) secured its removal by negotiating a bipartisan deal in the Judiciary Committee he serves on, The Washington Post reported.

In short, Surovell said that he would support a Republican bill requiring age verification on online pornography sites if Republicans allowed an amendment striking homosexuality from the state’s definition of sexual conduct.

“Defining sexual conduct as including an open display of homosexuality, to me, reflected a very sort of archaic and prejudiced view as to what homosexuality is,” Surovell told the aforementioned publication.

“I said to Senator [William M. Stanley Jr. the bill’s author], ‘If you’d like to pass your bill, you need to make the definition the same,’” Surovell said. “So, basically I stuck my bill into his bill… and he was willing to do that if that meant I wasn’t going to put meat on his bill and kill it.”

The term’s removal is especially important since state Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) recently signed a bill requiring the state’s Department of Education to inform parents about books that depict “sexual conduct” so that parents may block their children from accessing them.

Critics of the law worried it would be used to ban any depictions of same-sex relationships, such as holding hands or feeling any attraction. 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. In 2022, about 41 percent of challenged books were by LGBTQ+ authors or contained LGBTQ+ themes, the American Library Association reported.

Narissa Rahaman, executive director of Equality Virginia, welcomed homosexuality’s removal from the definition.

“For many LGBTQ+ Virginians, their identity is not merely an action, but rather a core part of who they are and how they move through the world,” Rahaman said. “To solely equate homosexuality with ‘sexual conduct’ is both minimizing and antiquated.”

Book bans nationwide 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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