'You know, what's happening in our society today is that we are becoming so open-minded, our brains are falling out,' Oklahoma Republican state legislator Sally Kern recently opined.
'We need to use common sense and discretion.' She was talking about the danger of children's books like King and King—about two princes in a far away kingdom who meet and fall in love—a book Kern saw as so treacherous that it prompted her to spearhead a resolution in Oklahoma that would remove all books that 'promote' homosexuality from the children's section of Oklahoma libraries.
Kern surely also finds horrifying books like the just-published and adorable And Tango Makes Three, all about two lovesick male penguins who sit on an adopted egg, hatch it and raise their own chick ( a true story about Roy and Silo in the Central Park Zoo in Manhattan ) . And certainly Sally Kern is targeting books like The Buffalo Tree, a novel for young adults that deals with homosexuality and has been banned in the school district of Muhlenberg, Penn., removed from the curriculum after a crusade by Christian conservatives.
Actually, three were more than 550 books banned or removed from school districts or libraries in the United States in 2004 by religious zealots, according to Judith Krug of the American Library Association. And that was up about 20% from the previous year. Krug says the ALA has been able to correlate the rise in the banning of books with the rise of conservative political climates in this country.
'In 1980, there were roughly 300 books that were challenged' she explained to me recently, careful to point out that these are only the books that the ALA hears about, and the figure probably only represents one-third of the true number.
Right after Ronald Reagan's election and the growth of the Christian right as a constituency in the Republican Party, the reported number 'surged to 900 to 1000 books per year'—and again, that represented only a portion of the total number.
The majority of the books today that are challenged by school districts and libraries, Krug says, are those that deal with sexual orientation. The mindset that believes books are somehow corrupting children—or 'indoctrinating' them into homosexuality—is the same mindset that believes that there is one book that is the law of the land and should remain on the shelves no matter how much sex and violence blares from its pages.
'I believe, like the Bible says, that we're all born with a sinful nature and capable of choosing the right path,' Sally Kern, the Oklahoma legislator, told me two weeks ago, appearing on my radio program.
'I don't believe people are born gay.' The wife of a Baptist preacher, Kern says that all the books in the children's section of the libraries must 'define the standard of the community.'
She believes we have simply become 'too open-minded' which has caused 'our brains to fall out.' It may sound like she's the one whose brain was lost somewhere, but people like Kern are now making laws in communities across the country.
Legislators in Louisiana, Alabama and elsewhere are following her lead in removing any books that deal with homosexuality—except for those that are antigay—from children's sections of libraries, which fast leads to their disappearing entirely.
As Judith Krug of the ALA explains it, once you take a children's book out of the children's section and put it in the adult section, the book never gets checked out—since it is meant for children. Soon enough, it's taken off the shelves entirely, since the library needs to make room for books in demand.
It's the slow but thorough road to censorship. And once you censor books about specific groups of people, you're on the way to making that group completely invisible.
There's no sex in kids' books like King and King—just love, companionship and nurturing.
Kern acknowledges this, but rails that the books promote unlawful behavior—a chilling reminder of why it is important for Christian conservatives to make laws against homosexuals.
'There's no sex in [ King and King ] but what the book does is it encourages the lifestyle of homosexuality, which is against the law here in Oklahoma,' Kern claims, 'because we passed a state law, a constitutional amendment that says marriage is to be defined between one man and one woman. In this book two men get married and so it is going against the law in Oklahoma.'
What about all of the violence in some fairy tales? What about Hansel and Gretel? Little Red Riding Hood?
'Those stories aren't advocating that kids go out and be violent,' she explains—even if they are scaring the daylights out of kids—'but the homosexual books are telling children to adopt the lifestyle.' And how about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? Isn't that one a hotbed of lust and intrigue? After all, I said to Kern, Snow White kisses the Prince, and at one point the Prince isn't even human—he's a frog! 'The difference there,' she responded, 'is that that is still in the heterosexual lifestyle.'
Yes, I know I got my fairy tales mixed up—and she didn't even catch me. Snow White of course didn't kiss the toad and turn him into a prince. Snow White was actually dead, having eaten a poisonous apple given to her by a woman as wicked and nasty as Sally Kern, and it was the prince who kissed her and brought her back to life.
But I'm certain that, just as Rep. Kern believes bestiality is OK as long as it is in the 'heterosexual lifestyle,' she'd be OK with straight necrophilia too. Anything but homosexuality.
Michelangelo Signorile hosts a daily radio program on Sirius OutQ 149. See the Web site www.signorile.com .
ALA In Chicago
The 14th Annual Free Speech Buffet, sponsored by the Alternatives-In-Print Task Force ( AIP ) of the Social Responsibilities Round Table ( SRRT ) of the American Library Association will be Monday, June 27, during the American Library Association's annual conference in Chicago.
In keeping with the progressive tradition of SRRT and ALA's Library Bill of Rights, they organize the Free Speech Buffet to provide a venue for progressive and independent publishers to showcase their materials and mingle with like-minded librarians who have come to the conference from all over the country.
The event is 6-9 p.m., at Roosevelt University, 450 S. Michigan Ave.