A Mississippi library has banned the Heartstopper graphic novel series from its young adult section after angry parents, objecting to the depiction of same-sex relationships, claimed the books were “pornographic.”
Alice Osman’s graphic novels tell the story of two teenage boys who fall in love. They do not contain explicit sexual content, but do feature same-sex kissing and hand-holding. Some of the books also feature a transgender girl character.
The mere idea of same-sex content enraged people at the Marion County Public Library in Columbia, Mississippi, who demanded that the books be pulled from library shelves to protect children from being exposed to themes they deemed problematic.
The books were temporarily pulled from the shelves on August 9 after residents of the county claimed the books were “pornographic,” with one attendee claiming that “homosexuals” were using the Heartstopper books “to recruit your kid, my kid and grandkid to get into that lifestyle,” reports the Mississippi Free Press.
Heather McMurry, a mother who homeschools her children and filed the initial complaint over the Heartstopper books, told the Free Press in written correspondence that “[t]he media has focused on Heartstopper but the real issue is the entire ‘young adult’ (13+) section” and her belief that “all books of a sexual nature” be removed from a section where teenagers might access them.
McMurry also referred the Free Press to BookLooks.org, a conservative-leaning website that reviews potentially “objectionable content” in books that may be accessed by children.
According to the BookLooks website, the Heartstopper graphic novels contain “sexual activities” — presumably referring to the same-sex kissing and hand-holding — as well as “alternate sexualities; alternate gender ideologies; profanity; and violence.” (The books do contain instances of bullying directed toward LGBTQ people.)
The Marion County Public Library’s board of trustees voted on August 18 to permanently move the Heartstopper series to the library’s adult section.
Marion County Library Director Ryda Worthy and Branch Manager Mona Swayze — neither of whom had a vote in deciding to move the books — told the crowd that the only way a minor can obtain a book from the adult section is with parental permission.
The parents and community members attending the August 18 meeting submitted a list of 14 additional books deemed by BookLooks to have “objectionable” content. Those residents asked the Board of Trustees to remove those books — including one about a transgender character — from the young adult section to “protect children.”
“Who makes the decisions about buying these books that are not appropriate and are degrading to the morals of America?” one woman asked. “Is it God’s will for us to have this type of material that the taxpayers are paying for?”
When the library board’s attorney noted that staff had to review each challenged book individually instead of issuing a blanket ban, the impatient meeting attendees criticized library staff for allegedly violating a state law prohibiting sexually explicit material from being displayed to minors.
That law led libraries throughout the state to ban access to e-books over fears that “objectionable” content was too easily accessible by minors. Other residents reminded staffers that, as taxpayers, they pay the employees’ salaries — a veiled threat for not immediately complying with demands to ban certain books from circulation.
“Rose,” a local mother who asked to use pseudonyms for her name and that of her son, “Jordan,” to protect their privacy, described the August 18 meeting as akin to being in a room of “angry villagers” who wanted to “burn the witch.”
Both Rose and Jordan expressed relief that the library had not banned the Heartstopper books altogether, although Jordan was disheartened by the effort to remove them from the library.
“Seeing [Heartstopper in the library] gave me at least a little bit of hope that maybe this town was OK and that people like me, kids, would feel like it’s not a bad thing and feel like they can have something relatable to connect with and make them feel hopeful and happy and secure — something as simple as a book,” Jordan told the Free Press.
They added that if Heartstopper, which does not contain explicit sexual contact, is considered objectionable, it is unlikely any flagged book will survive a challenge.
“At this point, we should just take all of them and put them in the adult section,” Jordan said of any LGBTQ-related titles. “It would save time.”
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