As librarians across the country face unprecedented scrutiny by conservative groups hoping to squash the freedom to read, a Tennessee district attorney made headlines for insinuating she would prosecute librarians for carrying LGBTQ+ books. The video of DA Coty Wamp, was recorded at a Moms for Liberty meeting, according to Vice. The group is known for attempts to block curriculum and books containing information on anti-racism, LGBTQ+ communities, gender, sex and sexual health, and other topics the group deems “damaging” to youth. Many Moms for Liberty anti-masking efforts in schools have proven successful in conservative states and districts.
Moms for Liberty is taking their ironic mission a step further. Going beyond book banning, they are scapegoating librarians and educators by seeking out legal ways to actively punish those who purchase or teach inclusive materials and curricula. Coty Wamp took the bait. According to the video, when asked what can be done about “inappropriate” books in schools and libraries, Wamp said, “I think that there’s going to come a time in some of these books where it crosses a criminal line. It’s called contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”
Since the video went viral, Wamp responded to Jezebel and walked back her comments. “I won’t prosecute librarians or teachers for the books that are in our schools, and I do not say that I will in this video,” Wamp wrote to Jezebel. “The book that I was looking at in this video, which was in at least one of our county elementary schools, described sex positions using photos that could potentially amount to child pornography. I would assume most agree that elementary age children do not need to learn about sexual positions while they are at school. That’s absurd.”
The book Wamp is holding up in the video, according to Vice, is It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health, by Robie Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley. The book was written in 1994 for adolescents and has since been updated several times to be more inclusive. Common Sense Media, an organization that “rates movies, TV shows, podcasts, books, and more so families can feel good about the entertainment choices they make for their kids,” gives the book its maximum rating of 5 stars and recommends it for 12+ year olds.
The growing conservative trend aiming to prosecute and punish educators and librarians for having materials that include ideas about racism, sex, and sexuality is in direct oppostition to the cause of “liberty” – a term often used by these same groups to justify their actions.
One librarian is fighting back. Louisiana middle school librarian Amanda Jones is pursuing a defamation lawsuit against Michael Lunsford, who runs a conservative activist group called Citizens for a New Louisiana and accused her of being a pedophile who wants to keep “pornographic” materials on the shelf to teach kids about anal sex, according to NBC News.
Lunsford’s group posted her picture on Facebook three days after a Livingston Parish Library board meeting asking, “Why is she fighting so hard to keep sexually erotic and pornographic materials in the kid’s section?” According to the suit, Lunsford has submitted multiple public records requests about Jones’ personnel file and said he would visit the school. Jones has also filed a criminal complaint that is currently under investigation.
The conservative obfuscation of the word liberty, which roughly means freedom to do as one chooses, implies their liberty is more important than anyone else’s. Banning LGBTQ, sexual health, and anti-racist books suggests that those who don’t hold conservative values don’t deserve freedom. It’s at least a form of exclusion and at worst doublespeak.
Jacqui Higgins-Dailey worked as a public librarian for 10 years before becoming full-time residential library faculty at Glendale Community College in Arizona. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Chico and a masters in library science from the University of North Texas. She is passionate about information literacy instruction and loves to read, write, hike and travel.