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Burning books and banning drag shows
The right's actions -- censoring LGBTQ depictions, stomping out discussions of race & gender -- are right out of the Nazi playbook. Call it what it is.
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A Virginia school board voted unanimously last week to ban all “sexually explicit” books from school libraries after a woman found the acclaimed novel about a gay relationship, “Call Me by Your Name” — which was made into an Oscar-winning film — as well as “33 Snowfish,” about three homeless teenagers, in the district’s online library catalogue.
“I think we should throw those books in a fire,” [Rabih] Abuismail said, and [Kirk] Twigg said he wants to “see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff.”
Also last week, the governor of South Carolina called on the state’s Department of Education to ban the book, “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” from school shelves, calling it “obscene.”
In Texas, one legislator in recent weeks has targeted 850 books that focus on racism, women’s rights and LGBTQ issues to be banned — with Governor Greg Abbott’s encouragement — and in Kansas a school board had put a “pause” on checking out 29 books, including “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and a non-fiction book telling the history of the KKK as a terrorist organization.
Meanwhile, in Eagle Grove, Iowa late last week a weekend drag queen show at a local bar was forced to be canceled after a letter from the city attorney claimed it violated the city’s municipal code.
Let’s not mince words about what’s happening in this country as the Trumpifed far-right continues to embrace the totalitarian actions of the Nazis, who infamously burned thousands of books and supervised all of culture, including performances, plays and films, through the Reich Chamber of Culture.
Gay culture and the previously burgeoning gay rights political movement in Germany were crushed, as were other movements for liberation, upon Hitler’s rise. The Institute of Sexology, founded by the pioneering gay researcher and activist Magnus Hirshfield, was raided and 20,000 books were taken out and burned.
While these actions may seem distant and extreme, the impulses behind them are right here and now in America — as indicated by the words of the Virginia school board members who want to burn books.
The authoritarian fervor behind these actions has been promoted by Donald Trump, who, let’s not forget, told his former chief of staff John Kelly that Hitler “did a lot of good things.” It’s the same authoritarianism that has now taken hold in other countries, such as Hungary, whose anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ self-styled dictator, Victor Orban, is being embraced by the Trumpist movement.
What’s happening in Iowa is chilling, particularly since the state has laws banning discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
In October, Martha Kaiser, owner of Doña Martha's Office, booked several drag queen performers from Des Moines for her venue. She opened just five months ago in Eagle Grove, a city of little over 3000 people, 95 miles north of Des Moines. A second show with six drag performers was scheduled for November 13th. She told KCCI Des Moines:
The drag queen show — it's so magnificent, so unique, and I haven't seen that here before. I've seen bands, and the musicians, but the drag queen show just brings a different ethnicity, a different concept.
But on November 10th Eagle Grove City Attorney Brett Legvold sent Kaiser a letter demanding she cancel the November 13th show.
Legvold’s grave concerns were that the performances were focused on “anatomical areas” by “female impersonators” — and other such nonsense:
Specifically, prohibited adult amusement or entertainment includes an amusement or entertainment characterized by an emphasis on sex acts or specified anatomical areas such as those depicting, describing or relating to sex acts or specified anatomical areas (i.e., female impersonators, strippers, or similar entertainment) within 1,000 feet of other businesses.
That is ludicrous and quite frankly frightening. Legvold later added that a video of the previous show depicted such actions occurring — which Kaiser denies — and he added: “The ordinance at issue is intended to regulate entertainment of such nature — whether performed by a man or woman of any sexual or gender identity or preference — by mandating that it occur in certain areas of town."
The fact that LGBTQ people are protected in the state from discrimination — and that drag is part of queer culture — doesn’t register at all to the public moralists, instilled with confidence by Trumpian rhetoric, because in truth they are hellbent on stamping out queer culture.
The very same impulse is at play in the efforts to ban books, not just about LGBTQ culture, life and history, but about racism, misogyny and other forms of bigotry in America.
This toxic fervor has taken over the minds of a group that feels its power is threatened, experiencing insecurity and humiliation — and posing itself as the victim while it victimizes others. And it is engaging in violent actions, from the vigilante justice in Kenosha and threats against politicians to animated videos depicting themselves murdering their enemies and parents sending death threats to school officials endorsing mask mandates and the literal storming and looting of the U.S. Capitol.
Anyone who doesn’t see the parallels to history is simply looking away.
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