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Oklahoma library’s canceled love book club draws attention to growing censorship

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Literary circles rose after the Enid Public Library in Enid, Oklahoma, canceled a romance book club and sexual assault awareness book expo in response to the city’s library board that narrowly voted to ban exhibits and programs featuring content about sexuality.

However, the Enid and Garfield County Public Library Board initially said the book club and sexual assault awareness book exhibit could remain. According to the acting director of the Enid Public Library, Theri Ray, library staff and city officials later rejected the projects “in accordance with adopted policy”.

“The library manager is responsible for implementing the policy as written,” Ray told CNN.

Although library staff have not publicly specified any motivation, literature advocates have commented on their actions on the extent to which such a ban can be interpreted, despite having its origins in specifically LGBTQ content.

At first glance, the policy, written by Board Chairman Joseph Fletcher, is very general. It states that library programs and exhibits must be “non-partisan” and “shall not have as their object the study of sex, sexual activity, sexual perversion, sex-based classifications, sexual preferences, sexual identity, gender identity or topics that are sexual in nature. »

However, Cindy Nguyen, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, pointed out that the verbiage was specifically taken from a bill currently blocked by the state legislature. SB 1142 proposes banning materials dealing with sexuality in classrooms — a concept critics say is similar to the controversial law, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics, that grabbed headlines. newspapers in Florida.

Nguyen and his team have been paying close attention to the events unfolding in Enid.

“We know it’s pretty clearly related,” she told CNN.

The links don’t stop there. Last summer, a Pride Month-themed display at the Enid Public Library sparked outcry from several citizens and was widely discussed at a library board meeting in July 2021 .

“We don’t need to introduce divisive things into a public building,” one Enid resident said, according to Enid News & Eagle. Fletcher, who ultimately drafted the proposal that became the ban, reportedly said the problem was promoting certain topics, not accessing them. (New library policies would not require removal of materials from the library catalog.)

At this year’s April 11 board meeting, which Nguyen and Ray attended, attendees debated what exactly constituted “sexuality” or “gender-based classifications.”

“If we go to this vote, there will never be a posting,” a board member said.

Ray said at the meeting she would have to decide whether or not to include displays for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, for example, since the terms are technically classifications based on gender and sex.

What happens in this city of about 50,000 people may not stay local for long, Nguyen warned.

“We expect to see these policies appear in legislatures across the country,” she said. “Anything related to critical race theory or LGBTQ issues, there will be an attempt at spooky discourse.” (“Scary speech” is a term that describes attempts to discourage First Amendment speech through vague laws or policies.)

According to a report by the literary and free-speech organization PEN America, conservative legislatures have enacted about 1,600 book bans in school districts in 26 states since July 2021. That includes 713 bans in Texas, where students and educators are currently pushing back against an investigation launched. by GOP State Rep. Matt Krause in hundreds of books broadly related to race and sexuality.

Nguyen said the generality of policies like Enid’s makes them particularly dangerous because they can be applied as broadly or as specifically as local leaders want. To avoid breaking the rules, libraries may have to decide to what extent concepts such as sexuality or race can be interpreted – and which parts of those identities are most likely to be punished.

cnn

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