“There are 150 pages of 342 with sexual/lustful material,” read the handwritten notes on documents submitted to the Irving Public Library for a materials reconsideration and challenge request of Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) by L.C. Rosen, published in 2018. Viki Norman, a concerned citizen and school nurse within the Irving Public Schools, submitted underlined passages of the book along with her complaint.
“This book promotes to minors, anything goes as far as sexuality-no limits, without any consequences. It is replete with promiscuity for girls and guys, gay and straight; there are orgies, passages of first time anal sex described, encouraging young girls and boys to have anal sex, talking and sending nude pictures via phone, signing up for an adult gay dating app called Grindr, hooking up with adults for sex, hooking up in a hotel room, sex with teachers, BDSM sex which is bondage, dominance, sado-masochistic-sex-for those who didn’t know!, using dildoes, illegal drug use, going down, oral sex, hand jobs, blow jobs, dry humping, masturbation, acting out fantasies with strangers, hooking up with someone who is a dominator or a submissive part of the act! Whoa!,” her June 20 email to the Library Board and City Council leaders reads, followed by a word salad of how the book fails to protect minors under various Texas penal codes and fails to address how dangerous said sexual acts are.
Rosen’s Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) is, indeed, a book about gay sex. Jack is a sex columnist who openly and honest addresses questions from queer and straight teens alike who are seeking information about safe love and intercourse from a reputable source. In a world dominated by purity culture, where obtaining information or education about heterosexual sex is relegated to abstinence only, finding healthy, fact-filled information about a wide variety of queer-friendly sex topics is all but impossible. Rosen, through Jack’s advice column, offers insight which is raw, honest, funny, and incredibly necessary.
It should come as little surprise that Norman’s complaint is the first in a series of similar complaints over the years.
In summer 2019 during Pride Month, Norman, along with other “concerned citizens,” spoke against Drag Queen Story Hour coming to Irving Public Library. The library never had Drag Queen Story Hour or planned to at the time of the complaints.
Norman and others continued their campaign throughout the year, with an email going to the Library Board and members of the City Council in September 2019 that called for removal of a number of materials from the library’s teen collection. All of theme were about or by members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“Many of our citizens no longer feel safe using the IPL with their children […] Many of the authors of the sex saturated teen and preteen books state in their biographies; “bisexual,” “Queer Activist,” “Transgender Activist,” “kids are inherently sexual,” “bizarre erotica,” it reads. The email continues, “We are at RECORD HIGH LEVELS OF SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES IN THE US […] The Dallas County Medical Director recently stated that HIV is at epidemic levels in Dallas county and the level of HIV infection in the men having sex with men (MSM) population is remaining consistent. Washington DC, whose policies are promoted nationwide, have the highest rate per capita of HIV, chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea.”
The email asks whether the library and city are prepared to “spend more money on the resultant diseases due to promoting sexual promiscuity to its youth,” and notes that the library is “so biased in it’s promotion of sexually promiscuous behavior that it has zero items in its collection under homosexual disease and as of July, only 6 items in its collection about sexually transmitted diseases […] while the IPL has 1000’s in its collection under gay, gender, transgender, gender studies, gender identity, queer, etc.”
“The library and city are promoting gender dysphoria and transgenderism. This is extremely irresponsible. Transgenderism is very controversial. Currently, some youngsters, after much internet indulgence, are convinced that their anxiety about puberty and social problems are due to the fact that they are the opposite sex.”
Included are statistics about the rates of HIV in men, about sexual abuse, and about hormones that come with no citation and the note that “90% of children who express gender dysphoria will grow to accept and be happy with their biological sex if their development is not chemically altered. There is high rate of sex change regret.”
Among the books included in this email complaint are Rosen’s, books by author Michele Tea, Check Please, My Brother’s Husband, Midnighter vol 1 and 2, and Teen Vogue magazine (as a whole because it is “promoting anal sex to 11-17 year old girls, prostitution and dangerous sexual behavior.”).
Irving Public Library Director Cary Siegfried responded to the email the following day, addressing these concerns and explaining that Norman knew the procedure for library reconsideration of materials.
“I understand from your many emails that materials regarding LGBTQ sexual behavior and gender roles departing from strict male and female roles or from heterosexual behavior are not ones that you would like to see in our collection; however, there are members of the Irving community who DO want to have these materials in the collection and have specifically requested them. […] We certainly respect and support a parent’s right to set limits for their child. We always encourage parents to be interested and engaged with what their children are reading; however, those limits should not impede other families from accessing the information and reading material that they wish to use.’
Though given the information for how to file a Reconsideration of Materials form, Norman never filed.
Norman’s latest email, dated June 30, comes on the heels of her attending the Irving City Council meeting and offering a public comment about the library having books that feature “destruction of healthy bodies through transgenderism” and having “child predators are really happy with Irving, because you’re just playing into their hands.” She goes on to complain about the library’s book events which she claims promote sexual promiscuity, but that the library can’t share materials about front-line workers — like her — during a pandemic (view the commentary under Citizens Forum at minute 7:10).
For all of Norman and fellow citizens’s concerns — the same small group of people who have been targeting the library’s LGBTQ materials since 2019 — her own social media is filled with right-wing material, as well as information about sexual behaviors that are from faith-based beliefs, not science, including natural family planning. Many of the citizens involved with this campaign are part of a group called irvingcatholics, or ICON Online, whose faith — not science — is at the forefront of their argument.
The reconsideration form for Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) was submitted on June 28. Norman notes that the book has “no value,” and has “hatred of monogamy, women, self, heterosexuality.” She recommends that the book be “thrown in the trash” and the library replace it with “materials on STDs, HIV, sexual abstinence, waiting to date, saying ‘NO,’ dangers of Transgender Industry, faithful, life long marriage, healthy relationships, that children are a result of sexual relationships.”
A quick search of the Irving Public Library catalog shows 18 pages worth of materials on STDs, a wide range of books about abstinence and purity, significant resources on marriage and healthy relationships, and indeed, books that are anti-transgender, as seen by the social media pushback when the library shared a Pride display prominently featuring the book When Harry Became Sally.
The library has two copies of Jack of Hearts which, at the time of this writing, had circulated six times. The book earned a starred review from Booklist, as well as high praise from School Library Journal, Horn Book, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly, which called the book “genuinely helpful and important.”
Richard Price, who documents censorship on their blog Adventures in Censorship, does a phenomenal job explaining how challenges like this one are about Christian Right moral ethics.
“[A]ny deviation from their world view is promoting dangerous information and must be purged. At one point, the challenger suggests organizing volunteers to remove these dangerous books from the library,” Price writes, “I certainly hope [Irving Public Library] sticks to the ethical standards of libraries by refusing to allowing this one challenger to control the collection for the community.”
Despite claims that the book has been put to challenge for over a year, Norman’s request for reconsideration didn’t manifest until the end of June. Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) is now undergoing the process by which materials are considered. The process involves those who take part in library collection development examining whether material fits within their collection policy and from there, making a decision on the material’s fate. This is a standard public library policy, following standard procedures.
Rosen’s book is the only title being reconsidered.
Siegfried was unable to comment about the challenge at Irving Public Library, given her role in the reconsideration process. According to the process, “If the customer is unsatisfied with the Senior Library Services Manager’s decision, the customer may appeal the Request for Reconsideration of Materials by asking in writing that it be referred to the Library Director within thirty (30) days from the date of the response to the customer.”
It’s clear that after over two years, this battle is far from over.
What’s unclear, though, is how much more pushing of this agenda will continue in Irving. It’s hard not to see a common problem, with a common group of “concerned citizens” comprised of conservative Christians pushing their own agenda across a community, tax-funded entity.
It’s also unclear where — or how — this particular challenge relates to a 2019 challenge of queer materials in the Irving School District.
*all quotes are reproduced as written