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Last year, a record wave of book bans swept across the country when the GOP moved its culture war into school libraries, and Arizona Republicans this year are pushing to expand on that by outlawing books that “promote” gender fluidity or pronouns.
To do so, they want to give parents the power to request the removal of any book that “promotes” gender fluidity or the use of gender pronouns, includes content they deem too lewd for their children to be exposed to, or that would “groom children into normalizing pedophilia.”
The legislation does not define “gender pronouns,” but the term is generally understood to mean words that reference someone’s gender, such as he/him/his or she/her/hers. Non-gendered or nonbinary pronouns, which are not mentioned in the bill, are not gender specific and are most often used by people who identify outside of a gender binary.
The term “grooming,” which generally refers to a manipulative process used by pedophiles to prey on minors, has been co-opted by far-right politicians and pundits to accuse LGBTQ people of pedophilia.
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The Arizona Senate on Monday approved Senate Bill 1700 on a 16-12 vote, with Republicans providing all of the votes in favor. The measure heads next to the state House of Representatives, where its fate is unclear.
But even if it does win support in that chamber, It is unlikely to become law. Gov. Katie Hobbs has repeatedly denounced anti-LGBTQ measures in the past, and during a March 19 speech at a gala for an LBGTQ youth organization, she said that any such proposals will “meet my veto stamp.”
Critics of the bill have worried it could lead to the removal of important literature that includes adult themes, such as “The Color Purple” or “The Great Gatsby.” A law passed last year that banned the use of “sexually explicit materials” in classrooms, and initially included homosexuality in its definition, faced a similar risk when it resulted in a Glendale school district considering the removal of LGBTQ books.
Sen. Anna Hernandez on Monday objected to the inclusion of gender fluidity in the list of prohibited themes. The Phoenix Democrat said that gender fluidity, which can be defined as a gender identity that isn’t fixed and may change over time, isn’t something that is spread via books, but rather a human characteristic that’s unlikely to stop by excluding books that mention it.
“Gender fluidity is not a thing promoted,” she said. “There are no brochures trying to sell it. Gender fluidity is a naturally occurring phenomenon some people experience. It is part of the human condition. You might as well (ban) books that promote left handedness or curly hair.”
State Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, warned that banning books would only serve to encourage students to seek them out. Marsh, a former Arizona teacher of the year, added that procedures already exist for parents to review which books their children read.
The new proposal builds on a law passed last year that requires all public school librarians, with some exceptions that SB1700 would eliminate, to post every newly purchased book on the school’s website and provide parents with a detailed list of books their child has checked out.
Granting individual parents the authority to decide which books all students can access is unfair, Marsh said.
“There is absolutely nothing wrong with a parent deciding a certain book is not right for her child. There is a colossal problem with a parent deciding that, therefore, no child should be able to read that book,” she said.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Justine Wadsack, framed it as a protection of children, ignoring criticism about its inclusion of gender fluidity. Parents, the Tucson Republican claimed, have been given little recourse to protest books they don’t agree with.
“This bill gives parents the ability to have a say in what their children read,” she said.
State law currently mandates that school governing boards review, have public hearings about and make available all textbooks and supplemental materials used in schools. And parents already have the right to review learning materials and pull their children out of a class or activity if they disagree with the materials being used due to sexual, violent or profane content.
Wadsack, a proponent of the violent QAnon conspiracy that a global cabal is sexually abusing children, has focused intensely on the “grooming” myth in her first year as a legislator and has sponsored other anti-LGBTQ legislation.
She has claimed that Arizona schools are exposing students to harmful sexual content. To back up those claims, she has pointed to a book of interviews from transgender and nonbinary youth found in some Arizona high school libraries, titled “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out,” that includes brief discussions of underage sex. It has been a frequent target of book challenges and has been banned from as many as 11 school districts across the country.
Wadsack criticized Democrats for advocating on behalf of books instead of children, accusing them of sanctioning the presence of sexually explicit materials in schools.
“They all want to defend the books,” she said. “But they’re not defending the rights of the child to have an innocent childhood.”
***UPDATE: This story has been updated to clarify that SB1700 refers only to “gender pronouns,” like she/her/hers, and not non-gendered pronouns that are most often used by people who identify outside the a gender binary.
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