Republican censorship at school libraries is making its way to censorship at public libraries—as predicted—with “don’t say gay” language forcing the cancellation of a romance book club and a sexual assault awareness display at a library in Enid, Oklahoma.

The recent policy from the city’s library board says that library programs and exhibits “will not make as their object the study of sex, sexual activity, sexual perversion, sex-based classifications, sexual preferences, sexual identity, gender identity, or subjects that are of a sexual nature.” Books can stay on the shelves (so far), they just can’t be highlighted by the library for things like, say, sexual assault awareness or reading the most popular genre of fiction in the country.

RELATED STORY: Here comes the wave of copycat ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills in red states

“In light of recent changes to program and display policies at the Public Library of Enid and Garfield County,  2 programs have been canceled for the month of April,” the library posted on Facebook. “The Sexual Assault Awareness program/display and the Shameless Romance book club discussion have been canceled.  Displays or programs that focus on sexual content are not allowed at the library.  The library respects the authority of the library board to set library policies.”

Vivian Topping, director of advocacy and civic engagement at the Equality Federation, and Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights

Cindy Nguyen, policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, pointed out to CNN that the library board’s language appears to be borrowed directly from a bill introduced in the state legislature but currently stalled. That bill focuses on schools and school libraries and would ban “books that make as their primary subject the study of sex, sexual preferences, sexual activity, sexual perversion, sex-based classifications, sexual identity, or gender identity or books that are of a sexual nature that a reasonable parent or legal guardian would want to know of or approve of prior to their child being exposed to it.”

Theri Ray, the Enid Public Library’s interim director, said at a public meeting that the policy might prevent the library from posting Mother’s Day or Father’s Day displays since they speak to sex-based classifications and gender identity.

That is, so far, a hypothetical, but the cancellation of the sexual assault awareness is not. A library has been banned from a display educating the public about a very common crime. Words fail here.

Romance novels constitute 18% of adult fiction sales, and while the genre has diversified dramatically, I’m going to hazard a wild guess that the library in Enid, Oklahoma, was not having its romance book club read Alyssa Cole’s How to Find a Princess, Courtney Milan’s Hold Me, Olivia Waite’s The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, Chencia Higgins’ D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding, or other LGBT romance.

The cancellation of the romance book club and the sexual assault awareness display are really top-notch examples of just how far these broad bans on content can go in practice. Liberals are routinely mocked for warning that things like this can happen, because obviously that’s an exaggeration that wouldn’t really happen. Yet here we have real-life direct effects of such a policy, in a public library for everyone in a community, after a piece of Republican legislation that is just starting to take off at the state level as applied to schools made the jump over to local policy on public libraries, with instant and significant effects.

Censorship is a very real part of the Republican agenda, and it’s extremely unpopular. It’s malpractice for Democrats not to run hard against book-banning in general, with cases like this as example No. 1.


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