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How a push to remove two LGBTQ books daisy-chained into a battle against traditional Republicans

Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education programs at the Utah Pride Center, poses with books, including <em>The Bluest Eye</em>, by Toni Morrison and<em> Lawn Boy</em> by Jonathan Evison, that have been the subject of complaints from parents in Salt Lake City on Dec. 16, 2021.
Rick Bowmer
/
Associated Press
The wave of book bannings around the country has reached a level not seen for decades. Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education programs at the Utah Pride Center, poses with books, including "The Bluest Eye," by Toni Morrison, that have been the subject of complaints from parents in Salt Lake City on Dec. 16, 2021.

An initial denial to remove two LGBTQ books from the children's section of the Hood County Library led to a 7 year political battle for control in North Texas.

From opposition to critical race theory to banning books; School board races across the country are becoming increasingly partisan.

A years long political battle in Hood County could offer some insight into that.

KERA's Justin Martin spoke with Jeremy Schwartz who's been covering this story for the Texas Tribune and ProPublica.

On why people were trying to remove the books:

Well, this was a fight that began when a four year old girl picked up one of those books. And actually, it was 'This Day in June' in the children's section of the Hood County Library back in 2015.

Her mom, Melanie Graft, was with her and was alarmed and upset and I think fairly shocked by what she saw in there and the message that she felt it was giving to her child.

And that basically that moment launched an effort, that sort of consumed Hood County in the summer of 2015 along this fight, but also snowballed into a good seven years of political activity that sort of came to a head this past year.

On how the movement to remove the books targeted traditional Republicans:

It was interesting. I mean, at the time it was a much different panorama than it is today. This was considered quite an unusual episode.

You know, so much so that there was national media from California and New York and Washington coming to cover this fight in Hood County wasn't like today, where we're, you know, every school district and county seems to be going through it.

And so on the one hand, it sort of seemed like an outlier and, you know, just something that sort of had popped up in this sort of small county. But I think the reaction to it and the anger and the sustained political activity that it led to was a signal of just how potent and strong this issue was, even if the rest of the country at the time was paying little to any attention to to school libraries.

On movements like this influencing upcoming school board elections:

I wouldn't be surprised. Sometimes local school board races can be sleepy affairs and it has ratcheted up the rhetoric and the intensity of these fights quite a bit. So yeah, I wouldn't be surprised to see added turnout.

The stakes certainly seem a lot higher than normal. It's in some ways a Republican Democrat fight, but it's also, you know, depending on who wins these, we're talking fairly wholesale changes potentially on the horizon at school libraries and in curriculum policies set by those school boards that limit what can be taught.

You know, are all outcomes of these elections. So there's just a lot riding on them. And yeah, from my point of view and sort of as a reporter here for 20 years, I don't remember this type of intensity in school board races, at least recently.

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Justin Martin at Jmartin@kera.org. You can follow Justin on Twitter @MisterJMart.

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