Anti-LGBTQ groups help push Florida’s ‘ban the books’ law

Man's hands holding a book "Gender Queer" by Mai Kobab

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In the wake of a recent law passed in Florida, anti-LGBTQ activist groups are making sure to be the ones to direct schools on how to manage and display books in libraries across the state.

Led by state officials, volunteers were tasked with training Florida public school librarians (also called media specialists) on how to navigate House Bill 1467, which requires school districts to be transparent about the selection of instructional materials and books on library shelves. Signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in March 2022, it has been dubbed the state’s “ban the books” law by opponents who say it will be used to remove books politicians and some parents have deemed objectionable.

DeSantis administration publish a call for parent nominations for volunteer positions and gave them a week to respond. Out of nearly 100 mother applicants, four were selected—three are either chapter leaders of Moms for Liberty (M4L) or affiliated with the Florida Citizens Alliance (FLCA), two groups that have led the recent push to ban the books on LGBTQ and racial justice. One parent representative for the task force, Michelle Beavers, nominated herself, according to local sources. She is also a leader of the Brevard County chapter of Moms for Liberty.

While M4L members have recently made headlines for harassing teachers and librarians at school board meetings, FLCA has been active for longer. In 2019, the group released a report titled “Porn in schools“, which featured children’s books written by queer and black authors, incl The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, It’s completely normal by Robie Harris and Two dads by Carolyn Robertson.

“There’s just a lack of understanding of actual library work and library standards in general when it comes to this Library Bill of Rightsin terms of collection development and making sure we’re representing all perspectives and diversity in our collections,” Michelle Jarrett, head of library media for the Osceola County School District, told Motherboard.

The task force meetings come after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration instructed “parents of students” to help train school librarians on how to navigate the state’s book ban law. At a meeting earlier this week, Jarrett says one commenter, identified only as “JD” in screenshots of a transcript provided to Motherboard, called her a “groomer ally” — using an inflammatory term often used to falsely conflate LGBTQ people and their supporters. with pedophilia and child abuse.

Needless to say, she didn’t like it.

“It was the first time I saw my name and the word groomer in the same place,” Jarrett said. “I was really taken aback because I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ I am studying in my 27th year, I have been a media specialist since 2004. I am a district supervisor. You see, I volunteer as president of the Florida Media Education Association. But when you’re insulted all the time, you get tired.”

Despite the harassment, Jarrett believes serving on the task force is important to the state of Florida.

“It is important that we be rational and defend the rights of our students and our media specialists and our teachers,” she added. “If we stop doing the work, others will win.”

At the same meeting, Jennifer Pippin, head of the Moms for Liberty chapter in Indian River County, Florida, suggested that books the group says contain “sexually explicit” content be moved to the adult section of the public library.

“If a parent wants their children to read these books that are not in compliance with the laws and statutes of the state of Florida, that parent still has the option to review and discuss the book with their child,” Pipin said during the meeting. “Just because a parent allows their children to read this book does not mean that the school district and the FLDOE cannot follow the laws and regulations that are in place to protect children.”

The Florida Department of Education’s (FLDOE) Public Schools Task Force is a microcosm of the national fight to keep books with LGBTQ themes on library shelves. For months, the librarians were busy outside attacks by anti-LGBTQ groups over bookshops and popular events like drag queen story hour.

Motherboard obtained a screenshot of a message sent by Pippin to non-state M4L members urging them to attend this particular meeting – many spamming the Microsoft Teams chat with messages like “follow the law” and “just don’t break the law, it’s not no rocket science”.

At the meeting on October 18, Pippin acknowledged that task force parents are not actually trained media specialists, which she says prevents them from fully engaging in the discussion. But that hasn’t stopped many members of her group from advocating that books they deem inappropriate be removed from libraries.

“One of their favorite things to do is read pages out of context,” Jen Cousins, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, told Motherboard. “For example, on their pages they show only a small part of the total work that they put out there for a shocking value. You know the moderator has to say, “Maybe you’re offended, now it’s time to turn off the screen.” My God, it just feeds into their narrative that we filled our schools with porn.”

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