A digital flyer advertising a forum title “Let Them be Little” Tuesday night at Calvary Baptist Church of Dothan emphasized the current discussion over content targeted at minors in public libraries.
“What’s going on in our public libraries,” the flyer poses. “Sexually explicit content in children’s books? What can we do?”
The actual panel discussion veered in other directions, with the panelists touching on recently discussed legislation that would mandate content filters be activated by default on communications devices, and potential age verification measures for accessing pornographic websites—and Dr. Stewart Tankersley repeatedly veering off into COVID conspiracy tangents.
At one point, Tankersley surmised that the increase in gender dysphoria in youth all ties back to “evil shots,” citing the debunked myth that vaccines cause autism.
“The reality is the vast majority of children who want to transition one way or the other are on the autism spectrum,” Tankersley said. “Vaccines have been a major contributor to this and there have been no long-term studies on vaccines to make sure that they are safe for the children … These awful, murderous Covid-shots, clotshots—they’re just evil. That’s by design … This autistic issue is part and parcel, I think, of these children being, obviously—part of the autism spectrum is they don’t have comfort or naturally inclined to relate and engage to others—and here is the culture pushing them away from others and saying ‘Hey, you’ll be accepted over here.'”
While recent studies have shown that people on the autism spectrum are as much as six times more likely to experience gender dysphoria, that does not mean the majority of transgender people are on the autism spectrum.
Becky Gerritson, executive director of Eagle Forum of Alabama, joined in the chorus of conservatives that say the books being challenged in public libraries are “part of the Marxist agenda.”
“It is the tearing down of the family,” Gerritson said, referencing the “reading of communist goals into the Congressional record.”
This Congressional record has been cited multiple times by supporters within the Clean Up Alabama movement and has been picked up by political operatives such as Gerritson as well as politicians.
The quoted goals are from Cleon Skousen’s book “The Naked Communist.” Skousen is widely viewed as a far-right conspiracy theorist. Pulitzer-prize winning historian Jack Rackove called Skousen’s books “a joke that no self-respecting scholar would think is worth a warm pitcher of spit.” Even conservatives distanced themselves from Skousen’s pronouncements.
“I think this administration has leaning towards that way, and I think that is why we we are seeing this,” Gerritson continued.
Some conservatives across the country have jumped on the Marxist language after American Library Association president Emily Drabinski described herself as a “Marxist lesbian” on Twitter.
Gerritson specifically expressed concern about children’s books dealing with consent, which she portrayed as “part of the agenda” to teach kids they could consent to being molested.
“They are trying to normalize consent; they want children now to have the ability to consent,” Gerritson said. “If you have grandchildren or children that are telling you they don’t want to hug you, this is part of that. This is what they’re training…this attitude of you have to ask. We’re finding a lot of children, they won’t hug their grandparents anymore because they want to be able to give consent. Well, when you can do this and we are not protecting children anymore and we are treating them like short adults, then they can say ‘Yes, I’d like you to molest me.’ This is part of the agenda. Beware of normalizing consent—it is not a good thing.”
“What you have to understand is our children are being groomed,” said Troy Towns, pastor at Montgomery’s Rivers Edge Church and former vice chair of ALGOP. “They’re being groomed. There is a lot of pedophilia around the government and around the world. Our kids are being groomed and so that is why this pornography is being pushed … This is all taking us toward normalizing pedophilia.”
State Rep. Rick Rehm of Dothan took a more cautious approach to the subject than some of his fellow panelists, emphasizing that he is against censorship and book bans but agrees that children need to be protected from indecent materials. He also said the constituents of his purple district are in agreement that children should not be indoctrinated or exposed to indecent materials.
There seemed to be some confusion or contradiction as panelists talked about exactly what constitutes pornography and obscenity and how it relates to libraries.
“There’s certain books where you see it and you just absolutely know it should be banned from the library,” Rehm said, specifically pointing out the graphic memoir Genderqueer, which he said made him physically sick to the stomach due to its occasional depictions of sexual activity as well as sexual dialogue.
But Rehm also pointed out correctly that there is not a law against pornography, but against obscenity.
“So what is obscene? And what I want to prevent for happening down the road … is what if I have a book that displays a fetus and someone tells me, well that’s obscene,” Rehm said. “I don’t want down the road people on the other side from me saying you can’t have that because that’s obscene.”
Gerritson followed up by specifically reading that pornography is presumed protected by the First Amendment unless it is obscene, and a judge would determine whether the challenged material is obscene.
“That’s what I think needs to be banned from the library,” Gerritson said.
However, earlier in the forum, Gerritson said that the current issue with library books is obscene images, as well as graphic violence in stories.
“What we want to do and why we’re having a problem with the libraries— it is the pictures, it is the obscene pictures, the graphic violent nature of the stories that we’re trying to protect the children from,” Gerritson said. “And many times, all of this pornography that I’m discussing is illegal. It is not a First Amendment right. It is obscene material; we have laws on the books federally and in the state. Unfortunately, the laws are not being upheld.”
Graphic violence by definition could not fall under the definition of obscenity unless it also involves sexual acts—which Gerritson may have been referring to as she spoke about current mainstream pornography portraying violence towards women. Gerritson said girls are seeing this violence toward women in pornography, driving them to want to transition to being boys.
The claim that the crux of the library issue is about obscene pictures is also wildly misleading. While a few books have been challenged for visual content, the vast majority are challenged for written content, and some of those challenges aren’t even sexual in nature, much less pornographic.
The book that started the campaign in Prattville, The Pronoun Book, has all of 16 words and nonsexual illustrations of people. And scores of other books challenged in Prattville and elsewhere have sometimes graphic depictions of sex, but do not appear to meet the definition of pornography, much less obscenity. In fact, under Alabama law, the material must be taken to be pornographic as a whole to even begin to be considered as obscenity, and most of the book challenges are based solely on excerpts. Several book challengers have read aloud excerpts graphically depicting sexual violence in books that, taken as a whole, clearly promote messages against sexual abuse and grooming.
One example read aloud at a Fairhope Council meeting, Boy Toy, tells of a 12-year-old boy who believes he is in a consensual sexual relationship with his adult teacher, only to realize later that he had been sexually groomed and abused. Another, Tricks, tells the story of a teenage prostitute forced by poverty to turn to prostitution and endure sexual violence at the hands of an adult man, all the while having to worry more about where she will get money to survive than the sexual violence she is suffering. This excerpt was read by Hannah Rees, executive director of Clean Up Alabama, at the latest meeting of the Alabama Public Library Service executive board meeting.