South Carolina Senator Demands Book Removal; Threatens Public Library Jobs and Funding

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Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

“I’m not trying to ban any books. I’m trying to stop an indoctrination campaign against kids. Any person in this county that has children knows full well what I’m talking about,” said South Carolina Senator Josh Kimbrell in a press conference held yesterday across the street from Spartanburg County Public Library’s main branch. The senator is demanding libraries remove books he deems inappropriate from their collection or face a loss of funding.

At the conference, Kimbrell displayed books including You Be You, My Own Way: Celebrating Gender Freedom for Kids, The Pronoun Book, Who Are You, and Pride 1,2,3. According to the Spartanburg library catalog, all of the books are available in the system, though several are checked out.

Kimbrell and South Carolina Palmetto Family Council President Dave Wilson held up the books, demanding such titles be removed. Wilson claims having such books in the public library can lead to increasing human sex trade in the state and that books are indoctrinating children into the sex industry at a rapid pace. Both are popular and unfounded talking points among the radical right.

The Palmetto Family Council is a state division of Focus on the Family, a group especially focused on sexual morality. They are against same-sex marriage, sex education, and vaccinations against sexually transmitted infections. The group’s stated goals include “transform[ing] the culture in South Carolina by promoting the values and virtues of marriage, the traditional family model, and sexual purity.” Focus on the Family has a long history of working to ban books throughout the last several decades.

According to Todd Stephens, Executive Director of the Spartanburg Public Library, no formal complaint about the books has been submitted by Kimbrell, Wilson, nor anyone else so far.

“The problem is, we’re using tax money to pay for books,” Kimbrell said. “Nobody’s denying anybody the right to read, the right to believe what they want to believe about gender reassignment, but children are off limits. We will not allow tax money to be used to indoctrinate children in this state without parents knowing about it.”

Apparently the limits of “nobody” and “anybody” do not apply to politicians nor children. Kimbrell has threatened to get Stephens removed from his position if he does not comply with the demands and added that he will also work to deny salaries to every executive within the library system.

Kimbrell’s press conference was not met with all cheers, though. Dozens of protesters showed up, defending the rights of all to access books in their public library system. GoUpstate reports signs from protesters included phrases like No Censorship,” “Ban Hate, Not Books,” “Your Hate Has No Place Here,” and “Ban Josh Kimbrell, Not Books.”

Spartanburg Public Library has not dealt with a rise in book challenges over the last year, though according to Stephens, library workers have been “proactive” in removing books that have caused a problem elsewhere. Gender Queer and Tell Me What Children Really Want to Know about Bodies, Sex and Emotions were both removed without a formal challenge–the first in response to the book’s challenges elsewhere in the country and the second due to “poor translation” from German.

Kimbrell’s stunt is not the first demand by politicians to remove books from publicly funded institutions. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the public schools were told by Secretary of Education Ryan Wilson to remove Gender Queer and Flamer from the collection (they did). Other lawmakers and politicians have presented workshops that educate people how to get books banned in school and public libraries, such as those held by Idaho State Representative Heather Scott.

Stephens plans to review the books under fire by Kimbrell and Wilson.