Bad News for Books

Conservatives Have Turned to a Ratings System to Implement Book Ban

A new Texas bill could ban books containing references or depictions of sex from school libraries through a new ratings system and some experts worry the bill is vague enough for conservatives to snare books that they deem inappropriate.  

On Tuesday night, Texas lawmakers approved House Bill 900 which, if signed by the governor, would require book vendors to assign ratings to books that have depictions or references to sex. With house approval already, the next step is to hit the desk of Texas Governor Greg Abbott to either be vetoed or turned into a law. 

“House Bill 900 is simply another tool that we as a state can use to do all that we can do in our communities and in our schools to address harmful sexually explicit material,” said State Senator Angela Paxton, on the Senate floor Tuesday night.

If HB 900 is turned into law, not only would book vendors have to assign ratings to their books, if there’s sexual content of any sort in them, but the vagueness of the bill could effectively prohibit certain books from shelves. Books can receive a “sexually relevant” rating, which means that the material references, describes, or portrays sexual activity, but is a required part of the school curriculum. However, a book can receive a “sexually explicit” rating, indicating that the book’s material references, describes, or portrays sex in a way that’s “patently offensive” and not required for the curriculum, then the book can be removed from shelves. 

If the book receives a “sexually explicit” rating, then it’ll be removed from bookshelves. Students will then be required to ask for parental permission in order to check out a book given a “sexually explicit” rating. Texas state law defines patently offensive material as content that is a violation of “current community standards of decency.”

According to The Texas Tribune, this new law would make unnecessary hurdles for book vendors and school librarians, ultimately causing book vendors to take their business elsewhere. 

“How feasible is it for the hundreds of vendors used in Texas to retroactively offer ratings on these items before librarians are allowed to purchase new materials from them?,” questioned Lucy Podmore, a San Antonio school librarian, during the hearing’s committee testimony. “I urge you to not impede the ability of school librarians to serve their students.”

Additionally, this rating system, just like book bans, is just a coded way for conservatives to restrict material they deem offensive, including LGBTQ+ stories. Book bans have swept across the country in recent months, pulling queer-themed books off of shelves. This labeling system will become a “plan b” to block LGBTQ+ stories, especially as bans have become increasingly unpopular, according to a 2022 survey, which showed that 73% of Americans are opposed to banning books, while 43% were seeking out banned or challenged books. If data points to anything, it shows that American citizens aren’t fans of book bans, and this new ratings system may become a new hurdle that avid readers will try to surmount. 

But the challenges will continue to arise, as book bans continue to impact LGBTQ+ stories. The literary nonprofit Pen America tracked the expansion of book bans across the country. According to their research, there have been 1,477 occurrences of book banning, impacting 874 different titles during the first half of the 2022-2023 school year. 30% of these banned books focused on race, racism, and/or characters of color, while 26% of these banned books featured LGBTQ+ characters or themes. 

Paxton claimed during her remarks that HB 900 would offer increased transparency on school library content for parents and school districts. But this bill just increases conservative control over material they deem offensive, which just so happens to mostly feature LGBTQ+ stories.

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