The city council of Murfreesboro, Tennessee met to discuss protecting children from “dangerous” materials. They achieved this by discussing removing gay books from libraries, an action that has zero relation to children’s safety.
In June, Murfreesboro city council members enacted an ordinance of “community standards” that aimed to “supplement existing civil and criminal sanctions for indecent behavior.” The ordinance outlines the ability of communities to restrict “sexually explicit conduct” to help safeguard children from “behavior, material, and events” that may fall under the criteria of indecent behavior. The section in question lists “acts of homosexuality” under “sexual conduct,” meaning that anyone could be prosecuted or excluded from public services for being gay in public.
The changes would bar those who break the law from hosting events or selling goods in public for two years, with those engaging in the outlawed actions in front of minors receiving a five year ban. While the idea may seem rooted in good intentions, the definitions provided in this ordinance raise questions about its true efforts. This legislature is used to fight an unnecessary fight: homosexuality. When people can target drugs or violence, that opportunity is instead wasted upon a trivial issue.
The definitions of “indecent behavior” refer to Section 21-71 of the Murfreesboro City Code, which was last updated in 1977. These laws are obviously archaic, but they are still written in legislation across the country. This allows people in power to quote them as a reason to make any decision, happening here with Murfreesboro libraries. Books such as Flamer, Let’s Talk About It, Queerfully & Wonderfully Made, and This Book Is Gay were all on the chopping block in these most recent meetings, with a clear reason for these specific books: talking about queer identities.
Many book bans are instilled out of fear that children will learn about topics like LGBTQ+ identities or racial discrimination. Topics such as these are targeted in communities for the purpose that children will not be able to educate themselves on a topic and as such make their own informed opinions. Those who ban books want children to grow parroting the beliefs of their families. Murfreesboro is only one of the multitude of places in the US that has attempted or fully enacted bans on books, with Florida being a strong contender for the most known. Book bans are likely to continue across the nation. The American Library Association (ALA) has reported a historic uptick in complaints regarding books and their availability in libraries. This movement is likely to continue into next year, with the 2024 election on the horizon and candidates likely to speak their beliefs on the issue in an attempt to win over voters — but is that really what needs to be spoken on?
While the term “homosexuality” has just recently been removed from Murfreesboro’s ordinances after a federal lawsuit and a court order from the District Court in Nashville, this recent incident shows how vulnerable people can be when laws are dated and not kept up with current events. Many different minorities are under fire recently, with transphobia being an ever-hot topic in the current political landscape and Islamophobia and antisemitism on the rise spurred on from the genocide in Palestine, but instead of protecting citizens of our country in danger, the government turns its head and tries to restrict what people can read about. Rather than stabilize income inequality, provide for the homeless, or even simply work as intended, our legislators fight drag performers.
It is easy to see why the youth are increasingly disillusioned with democracy. When both democratic and republican lawmakers and politicians tackle menial tasks such as book bans, it takes away from pressing issues that affect the everyday person. Why deal with the stress of politics if you’ll never see any true benefits from either side?