The attempted erasure of LGBTQ+ people is accelerating in the state of Florida, thanks to Gov. Ron DeSantis, his Republican colleagues in the Florida Legislature, and compliant school officials. As reported by journalist and attorney Judd Legum, writing for Popular Information, in Charlotte County, Florida, an entire school district has banned all library books containing any LGBTQ+ individuals, regardless of whether any “sexual” or sexuality-affirming content is involved.
The school district apparently did not publicize its action. Legum reports that the guidance for the district’s librarians, purportedly issued in late July of this year, was obtained through a public records request submitted by the Florida Freedom to Read Project, known as FFTRP. That organization provided “a document memorializing a July 24 conversation” between district Superintendent Mark Vianello and the Charlotte district librarians. According to those documents, the policy includes the removal of all books that include or depict an LGBTQ+ person.
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Legum posted a copy of one of the the electronic documents received on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter.
As Legum reports:
Charlotte County school librarians sought guidance from the school district about how to apply an expansion of the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act, better known as the "Don't Say Gay" law, to all grades. "Are we removing books from any school or media center, Prek-12 if a character has, for example, two mothers or because there is a gay best friend or a main character is gay?" the librarians asked. Charlotte County Superintendent Mark Vianello answered, "Yes."
According to the electronic documents displayed in Legum’s report, librarians specifically asked whether existing books containing LGBTQ+ characters could remain if they did not incorporate sexual themes. The answer Vianello provided, as reported by Legum, was: “No. Books with LBGTQ+ [sic.] characters are not to be included in classroom libraries or school library media centers."
Additionally, as Legum reports, under the guidance students are barred from bringing such books into the classroom, even for “silent reading.” According to the documents Legum references, district librarians were advised that “These characters and themes cannot exist.”
Legum reportedly contacted the spokesman for Charlotte County schools for comment. The response, according to Legum, is below:
In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for Charlotte County Schools told Popular Information that books with LGBTQ characters were removed from libraries because “there are elementary schools that utilize their school library media center as classrooms… [for] elective courses that our students are officially scheduled into and attend on a regular basis.” Therefore, the library “is considered a classroom setting.” As a result, “our school board attorney advises that we do not make books with these themes available in media centers that serve as classrooms since this would be considered ‘classroom instruction’ and such instruction and/or availability of these themes may not occur in PreK- grade 8.”
The spokesperson acknowledged that “high school media centers are not designated as classrooms,” but books with LGBTQ characters were excluded anyway because “if a teacher were to bring a class of students to the media center and provide instruction, books with these themes cannot be included in that instructional time unless supported by the academic standards of that course of study.”
Legum notes that authors of a children’s book titled “And Tango Makes Three” sued the Lake County, Florida, school board on First Amendment grounds to compel the return of that book to school library shelves after its removal. The book tells the true story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who raise an adopted chick, and, as Legum observes, “has no sexual content.” In response, as Legum reports, the Lake county school board superintendent filed an affidavit (reportedly confirming guidance provided by the Florida Department of Education) stating that the “age restriction on sexual identity and gender orientation does not apply to library books.” That book was returned to Lake County and made available to students in their library.
Nonetheless, as Legum reports, according to the FFTRP, the Florida Department of Education has taken no action yet, despite being advised of the Charlotte school district’s actions:
“Every child deserves to have their lives reflected in the books available in their public school classroom or library,” Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the FFTRP told Popular Information. “The Florida Department of Education was informed of Charlotte County’s overreaction to the law and state rule over two weeks ago, and has not acted to correct it. Public school families in Florida deserve better. We cannot tolerate this discriminatory exclusion.”
As noted by Legum, the Florida Department of Education has thus far refused to take action and clarify to the schools exactly what should or should not be removed from their libraries. Consequently, it appears only lawsuits are persuasive enough for the state of Florida to take any action to mitigate these discriminatory policies against children.
Sadly, Charlotte County is far from the only school district in Florida to ban multiple books. According to NBC News:
“Florida school districts removed approximately 300 books from library shelves last school year, according to a list of ‘removed or discontinued materials’ that was quietly released by the state’s education department late last month.”
The removals were prompted by more than 1,200 objections raised by parents of public school students or other Florida residents, according to a 16-page Florida Department of Education document that included the book list.
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