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‘Do you want to promote p*rnographic books for children’? Barack Obama faces backlash over letter against book banning in USA

While the call for a ban on books is a matter of debate, it must be noted that most of the demands raised in recent years were directly linked to books containing sexually explicit content. Parents have demanded to ban such books, especially in school libraries.

On 16th July (local time), former US President Barack Obama came in support of the librarians against the banned books. In a letter addressed to the librarians of America, Obama said that the free exchange of ideas is an important part of making sure that the citizens are informed, engaged, and feel like their perspectives matter.

Citing the First Amendment of the American Constitution that states freedom begins with the capacity to share and access ideas, he pointed out that some of these ideas often find space in the books. Remembering how writers including Mark Twain and Toni Morrison, Walt Whitman and James Baldwin taught him about America’s character, he said reading about people whose lives were different from his showed him how to step into someone else shoes.

Criticising the call for bans on books, he said, “Today, some of the books that shaped my life — and the lives of so many others — are being challenged by people who disagree with certain ideas or perspectives. It’s no coincidence that these “banned books” are often written by or feature people of colour, indigenous people, and members of the LGBTQ+ community — though there have also been unfortunate instances in which books by conservative authors or books containing “triggering” words or scenes have been targets for removal. Either way, the impulse seems to be to silence rather than engage, rebut, learn from or seek to understand views that don’t fit our own.”

He called such an approach “profoundly misguided” and “contrary to what has made this country great”. He said, “I believe such an approach is profoundly misguided and contrary to what has made this country great. As I’ve said before, not only is it important for young people from all walks of life to see themselves represented in the pages of books, but it’s also important for all of us to engage with different ideas and points of view.”

“It’s also important to understand that the world is watching. If America — a nation built on freedom of expression — allows certain voices and ideas to be silenced, why should other countries go out of their way to protect them? Ironically, it is Christian and other religious texts — the sacred texts that some calling for book bannings in this country claim to want to defend — that have often been the first target of censorship and book banning efforts in authoritarian countries,” he added.

The letter was issued in sync with a video posted by Kankakee Public Library in which Obama made a cameo appearance. As per Washington Post’s report, it is the first in a series of TikTok videos that the former President filmed with libraries across America to promote book access.

This is not the first time Obama has come out in support of the banned books. In 2022, calling books written by members of the LGBTQ community, he said, “Today, books that shaped my life — and many others — are being challenged in schools, bookstores, and libraries by people who disagree with certain ideas or perspectives. Often, these “banned books” are written by or feature people of color and members of LGBTQ communities. This is a mistake. Not only is it important for young people to see themselves represented in the pages of books, but it’s also important for all of us to engage with different ideas and points of view.”

Obama faced criticism for supporting banned books

Obama’s letter received sharp criticism on social media. Author Matt Walsh said, “Was your life shaped by pornographic books about gay s*x? Because those are the books that we are “challenging”.”

Founder of Libsoftiktok Chaya Raichik said, “Obama admits his life was shaped by gay p*rn.”

Director-Producer Robby Starbuck said, “If you’ll sit down and read Gender Queer, then defend making it available to kids, I’ll do you the favor of running ads all over the country to let people know. You’ll never do it because you know it would disgust normal people that your party wants kids to read it.”

Gays Against Groomers said, “These books are not representative of who we are as gays and lesbians. It is demeaning and damaging to us. We want them banned because they are smut and sexualize children. Why don’t you?”

Call for bans on books in the US

As per reports, in 2022 alone, around 2,200 book titles were challenged. American Library Association (ALA) pointed out that such calls for a book ban have doubled in 2022 compared to 2021. In the past two years, 19 US States passed or considered bills that would punish those who provide minors with obscene or sexually explicit books, something that parents have been demanding in the US.

While the call for a ban on books is a matter of debate, it must be noted that most of the demands raised in recent years were directly linked to books containing sexually explicit content. Parents have demanded to ban such books, especially in school libraries. To understand the reason behind it, examining the link shared by Obama in the tweet thread where he shared the letter is necessary.

Sharing a link to the website of the association ‘United Against Book Bans, he wrote, “To learn how you can support librarians and defend the right to read, join the Unite Against Book Bans campaign led by the American Library Association at uniteagainstbookbans[dot]org.”

At first glance, the website may look fine, but the problem starts when it promotes books that contain sexually explicit content. Such books have been found in school libraries, creating concern among parents. There is a section named “Right to Read Day” that talks about the “13 most challenged books of 2022”. It read, “The American Library Association released its list of the Top 13 Most Challenged Books of 2022, which put on display what we already knew – that the books being most targeted for censorship are those written by or about LGBTQIA+ people and people of colour.”

OpIndia examined a few titles mentioned in the books to understand the content. The first book or graphic novel on the list is “Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe“. It was challenged 151 times for having LGBTQIA+ content.

Gender Queer is the most challenged book because of its sexually explicit content. Source: ALA

In 2022, famous Twitter user Libsoftiktok raised the issue with the book several times and mentioned how the book was being promoted in schools. The book that contains pornographic content was found in a 7th-grade classroom in Hollidaysburg Area, SD, PA. Libsoftiktok mentioned that the book was not available in any library in the district, and the teacher brought it into the classroom on her own. “This is how desperate they are to give your kids porn.”

It was found to be available in NJ High School as well. Several librarians were found promoting the book, as per Libsoftiktok. While the book is said to be suited for adults (Amazon has listed it for 18 years and above), parents were furious when they learned about the book’s availability in the school libraries and classes.

In November 2021, OpIndia reported how NPR was criticised for supporting the book. It was reported that a controversy swept across various school districts in the United States after parents and guardians strongly disapproved of the graphic novel Gender Queer being available in school libraries. Recently, some schools in South Carolina pulled the book off the shelves after parents objected to explicit drawings in the book.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster has also ordered an investigation into how “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” by Maia Kobabe, which has explicit drawings of sexual acts, was found in the Fort Mill School District. “These things are dangerous, destructive, harmful, and against the law in South Carolina,” McMaster said at a press conference.

The second book that OpIndia examined was “This Book is Gay” which is targeted at children. It teaches kids how to have sex and use sex apps. On page no 156, it gives instructions on how to use sex apps where it tells to upload photos on the app and find the nearest “homosexuals” to chat and meet.

In chapter 9, the author speaks about how it was okay to talk about sex and homosexuality to kids because children are informed about “straight sex” at five. Interestingly, in chapter 9, the author says she was not a gay woman but kept teaching children about homosexuality, how to find “partners”, and people with similar sexual orientation, along with other stuff across the book.

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B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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