During a Senate testimony on banned books last weeks, Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy (R) read sex scenes out loud from books that have been distributed to school libraries across the country. The passages describe gay and transgender sex in graphic detail, and Kennedy slowly declaimed them to make those listening painfully uncomfortable.
Kennedy read from All Boys Aren’t Blue and Gender Queer: A Memoir in attempt to reveal the ridiculous contents of the banned books and defend Republican lawmakers across the country for their decision to prohibit them.
Kennedy is well-known for his love of trolling and humorous publicity stunts, and his episode this week did not disappoint. It went viral, with journalists sharing clips on X and commentators reacting to it.
Sen. John Kennedy having a very normal one during this Senate hearing pic.twitter.com/TafATlG1l7
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 12, 2023
My third grade teacher read us ‘The Secret Garden.’
Times have changed… pic.twitter.com/uwOMeaC174
— Dave Rubin (@RubinReport) September 14, 2023
The occasion was a testimony delivered by Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias before a Senate Judiciary Committee called “Book Bans: Examining How Censorship Limits Liberty and Literature.” The testimony alleged that Republicans around the country who have banned books in recent months are in the wrong, saying the very principle of the action was at odds with American democracy.
“Instead of inheriting a debate over what more can be done with and for our libraries, I was confronted with a book-banning movement upon taking office,” said Alexi Giannoulias, who became secretary in January and also serves as the state librarian.
“Our libraries have become targets by a movement that disingenuously claims to pursue freedom, but is instead promoting authoritarianism. Authoritarian regimes ban books, not democracies.”
The right-of-center watchdog group Moms for Liberty listed Gender Queer as one of the books that should be banned as part of their “parental rights in schools” movement. The book has been one of the key points of contention dividing school boards and their parent constituents in the culture war over kids books. The wars began in 2021, amid the COVID pandemic and kids being forced to attend class over Zoom, often in earshot of their parents.
The author of Gender Queer, American cartoonist Maia Kobabe, uses e/em/eir pronouns and identifies as non-binary and asexual. The New York Times wrote a glowing piece on Kobabe, defending her as unfairly maligned by conservative mothers. Kobabe was also given an opportunity to write an op-ed for The Washington Post titled, “Schools are banning my book. But queer kids needs queer books.”
TIME spoke to "Gender Queer" author and illustrator Maia Kobabe on about eir work, the efforts to restrict access to eir writing, and what ey make of the current cultural moment https://t.co/JLdmgu5lCL
— TIME (@TIME) September 1, 2022
Her piece, which she reposted to her own website, claims that Gender Queer was first banned in a Florida school district and then shortly banned by schools in Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Ohio. Kobabe said she intended her books to be read by high school teens to help them figure out whether they are queer or trans.