North Dakota lawmakers have introduced legislation to ban books that contain “sexually explicit” content from public libraries, including a provision that could jail librarians if they don’t comply.
While Republican legislators around the country have introduced similar bills over the past year, most apply only to school libraries. House Bill 1205, however, would ban all public libraries from stocking “sexually explicit” materials in the name of protecting children, meaning that readers of all ages would be banned from accessing LGBTQ+-inclusive texts, which are largely what these bans restrict.
Introduced Tuesday by North Dakota House Representatives Mike Lefor and Vicky Steiner, the bill would redefine “explicit sexual material” to include “deviant sexual intercourse,” “sadomasochistic abuse,” “sexual perversion,” “sexual identity,” and/or “gender identity.” Neither “deviant” nor “perversion” are defined in the bill, a likely intentionally vague wording that could apply to just about anything. The public will be allowed to submit removal requests to libraries regarding books that violate the bill. Libraries must individually develop review processes for these requests, and if found guilty, they would be forced to remove the book within 30 days of receiving the request. Those who are found guilty of stocking such books would be guilty of a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to 30 days in jail, a fine of $1,500, or both.
Lefor cited the graphic novel Let's Talk About It: The Teen's Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human as one reason why he put the bill forth, according to the Bismarck Tribune. Referencing illustrations of nudity, Lefor stated that he thought the content was “disgusting,” and that public libraries “should put it in a restricted area where (children) need to get permission from their parents to take a book out like this, but they're offering it to junior high school kids ... and when we grew up, we didn't need things like this.”
“This is not a way to raise our kids, and we have to do everything we can to make sure that this doesn't get into the hands of children, especially without their parents' knowledge,” Lefor told the Tribune.
However, Allan Blume, the vice president of North Dakota’s Valley City Barnes County Public Library Board of Directors, defended the book’s educational value. “If I was a 13 or 15 or 17-year-old who had not gotten the education through the school system or through an interested and engaged family,” Blume said in comments reported by Valley News Live, “that book serves a crucial, crucial function.”
The bill comes just days after North Dakota lawmakers introduced a bill that would ban doctors from providing minors with transition-related healthcare, including hormones, surgery, and puberty blockers. The so-called “Help Not Harm” bill would strip doctors who provide such care of their licensing, and would allow patients who have been “harmed” by such care to take retroactive civil action against doctors up to the age of 25.
Both book bans and anti-trans healthcare bills proliferated in 2022. The American Library Association reported in September that 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources had been filed in the first eight months of 2022, the highest number in decades. Fifteen bills restricting trans healthcare were introduced in 2022, with even more already introduced in state legislative sessions this year.