House Bill 2044, the Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act, requires any library that receives taxpayer dollars to create a review board composed of five parents elected from the community, with final authority over the permissibility of sexual material.
These boards would be empowered to hold public hearings and render verdicts on public concerns as to the library’s offering of “age-inappropriate sexual material,” meaning “any description or representation, in any form, of nudity, sexuality, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse” that is deemed “patently offensive” and without “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.”
“Any public library personnel who willfully neglects or refuses to perform any duty imposed on a public library under this section, or who willfully violates any provision of this section, is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction shall be punished by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars or by imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed one year,” the bill states.
The bill is largely a response to the spread of Drag Queen Story Hour events, in which adult crossdressers read storybooks to children. These events have been intensely controversial around the country; organizers acknowledge one of their central purposes is to teach tolerance to children about help them to “learn to see beyond the pink and blue gender binary.”
LGBT groups and library officials have come out strongly against HB 2044. “I was contacted by my fellow directors across the state. They’re all very very upset about it,” Neosho Newton County Library director Carrie Cline told KOAM. “The Missouri Library Association’s very aware of it, so also is the American Library Association at a federal level.”
Shira Berkowitz, communications manager for Missouri LGBT group PROMO declared that the bill was “just based on fear,” NBC News reports, and denied the Drag Queen Story Hours involve “any kind of sexual content”…while at the same time declaring them important to the “visibility of LGBTQ culture.”
Rep. Baker responded:
“I think it is a ridiculous accusation to say that the bill would ban books or censor literature. Anything the parental oversight board would deem to be inappropriate for access by minors would still be available to adults to check out and provide to their children if they chose to do so. They already have internet filters on library PCs for the same reason, and that is protecting children from objectionable materials.”
Drag queens have vowed to hold a rally to protest the bill on March 7th.