A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on book bans took a racy turn Tuesday, as Republican senators and a witness read scenes of various sexual content into the congressional record to defend the banning of multiple titles from U.S. schools.
Max Eden, a research fellow at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, kicked off the “Book Bans: Examining How Censorship Limits Liberty and Literature” hearing by pointing to school board meetings where parents were not allowed to read passages from books because of their content.
“We’re talking about books with explicit passages about fisting, butt plugs, anal, the spit-or-swallow decision and rape,” Eden said, before reading a passage from “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” a book that has been listed as among the most banned by Pen America, a free speech organization.
“‘You are fully erect at this point. You promise that you are not going to tell anyone?’ I promised. He then grabbed my hand and made me touch it. It was the first time I’ve ever touched a penis that wasn’t my own. I knew that what was happening wasn’t supposed to happen. Cousins weren’t supposed to do these things with cousins,” he said, reading from the book.
“Ten-year-olds performing sodomy, underage incest, strap-on dildo, blow jobs: Is this OK for kids?” Eden asked after reading another excerpt.
“All Boys Aren’t Blue” is a young-adult nonfiction book that details the life of George Johnson growing up as a queer Black man.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) also read a male-male sex from the same book during the hearing, as well as a paragraph from “Gender Queer,” which has also appeared at the top of Pen America’s banned book list.
“I got a new strap-on harness today. I can’t wait to put it on you. It will fit my favorite dildo perfectly. You are going to look so hot. I can’t wait to have your cock in my life. I’m going to give you the blowjob of your life, then I want you inside of me,” Kennedy said, quoting the book.
He then went on to ask a Democratic witness if he was “suggesting that only librarians should decide if the two books that I just referenced should be available to kids.”
The hearing on book bans was called as multiple Republican-led states have made it easier for books to be challenged in classrooms and as school board meetings have been flooded with arguments on what is appropriate for children to read.
The American Library Association said the number of book challenges in the United States doubled between 2021 and 2022.
“So if you’re providing content to a child that if spoken to a child by you or by the school if that would constitute in some jurisdictions, in some circumstances, a crime or tort, you’ve got a problem,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said. “These school districts are acting in response to legitimate parental concerns. They should be removing these. Shame on them if they don’t and shame on those who want to groom children sexually.”
Republicans and Democrats found common ground in agreeing there are books that are inappropriate for some children, but Democrats said the argument that all the books under discussion are sexually explicit is a scapegoat for the issue.
“No one is advocating for sexually explicit content to be available in an elementary school library or in [the] children’s section of the library,” Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said. “That’s a distraction from the real challenge. I understand and respect that parents may choose to limit what their children read, especially at younger ages. My wife and I did. Others do, too. But no parent should have the right to tell another parent’s child what they can and cannot read in school or at home. Every student deserves access to books that reflect their experiences and help them better understand who they are.”
Republicans took issue with the definition of book bans adopted by Pen America, which says books being pulled off the shelves in schools for review constitutes a ban.
They also said that federal lawmakers have no place in such discussions.
“In Burbank, California, some school district banned ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ I don’t agree with that, but that was your right to make that decision,” ranking member Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said.
Democrats, meanwhile, raised the concern that books getting pulled overwhelmingly feature Black or LGBTQ characters.
“When I see books by some of the greatest authors — I see Frederick Douglass there, being taken off the shelf — that’s when I begin to worry that we’re falling into this trap where we are failing to do what is necessary to democracy, which [is] to create public forums, educational pathways that engender empathy and understanding. That engender deep knowledge. That engender the kind of sentiment that is necessary for democracies to exist,” Sen. Cory Brooker (D-N.J.) said.