Let’s face it, no one would ever call Arkansas the Reading Capital of the United States. And, no, I am not calling people who live in Arkansas stupid. There are, I am sure, plenty of exceptionally smart and interesting people who love books and love reading in the state. But the public school ranking for Arkansas is… not great! Not at the bottom, but ranked anywhere between 32 and 42 out of 50 states, depending on what ranking system you’re looking at.
Safe to say that the overall grade of Arkansas education is: Needs improvement.
Thankfully Arkansas Gov. Sarah Sanders (the artist previously known as Sarah Huckabee Sanders and who is most well known for serving as Press Liar for the Trump Administration) is all over it. She sees the value not only of public education but of diversity, equity and inclusion in the state’s school system.
Ha. Just kidding. Gov. Sanders wants kids in Arkansas to be dumb and sad. She’s been very busy making sure that people who aren’t white, Christian, cisgender and heterosexual know that they aren’t welcome.
So it’s not a surprise that she has embraced the whole book-banning thing wholeheartedly.
Case in point: Sanders appointed Jason Rapert, founder and leader of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, to the state library board.
Right Wing Watch calls Rapert a "Christian nationalist activist” and “a zealously anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice lawmaker,” referring to his time as a state senator. Definitely someone who should have a say in what books people get to read.
In a VERY long X post (I guess if you pay for the blue check mark there is no word limit?) on Nov. 8, 2023, Rapert railed against “the radial [sic] LGBTQ insanity attacking our children through public libraries and activist teachers that are pushing homosexual pornography on minor children.” Which he says the Democrats are behind. He also calls Democrats Satanists and baby killers who are leading us on a “march to the bottom of the pit of hell.”
That last part is comical since it’s actually the global warming-denying Republican Party that seems dead set on letting the entire planet go up in flames.
Anyway, when Gov. Sanders signed anti-trans legislation “prohibiting transgender people from using public school facilities that match their gender identity,” Rapert took credit for getting the legislation passed, according to Right Wing Watch.
“We are fighting for the lives of little babies,” he said in a video celebrating the legislation. “We are fighting against the people that are putting the queer books into your school libraries and trying to groom these children into homosexuality. We’re standing up. We’re pursuing school board policies to save the nation. We are standing up and have our members running bills in the halls of the state legislatures to stand up against this woke ideology, to push back against the things of the devil in our country.”
Books. The “things of the devil.” Would somebody put this guy on a library board already? Oh, wait.
Books are lifelines. They are mirrors. They are portals. They are ways to escape, ways to learn, ways to challenge and stretch our thinking. For everyone. Of any age. But especially for kids.
When I was growing up, I didn’t see representations of LGBTQ+ people anywhere. Not on TV, not in movies, not in books. And guess what? This didn’t make me any less gay. It just made growing up harder, more lonely, more confusing and sad.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I discovered books with LGBTQ+ characters and themes. And a lot of them did not even have positive portrayals, but it was still a revelation.
Now a parent with a child of my own, it is so wonderful to see all of the books for kids of all ages that reflect families like mine. My son has two moms. And so I sought out children’s books about families with two moms and two dads. And they weren’t that hard to find.
My kid is in high school now, but I still keep up with what’s being published for kids because I have nieces and nephews who I need to indoctrinate before it’s too late.
Oh, wait, did I say “indoctrinate”? Yes, yes I did. If right-wingers are going to keep saying that I’m indoctrinating anyway, I might as well give my nieces and nephews books that include families like mine and that teach them that it’s okay to be themselves and that I will love them no matter what. You know, things of the devil.