The “Heartstopper” graphic novel series will no longer be available to minors at the Columbia-Marion County Public Library after its board agreed to a group of enraged residents’ demands to remove them from the young adult section during a meeting on Friday. They will now be restricted to the adult section.
The board also agreed to initiate a review of every book in the young adult section for possible removal. The “Heartstopper” series, which is also a popular Netflix show, tells the story of two teen boys who fall in love but does not feature any explicit sexual content. The board did not explain its rationale for removing the books from minors’ access.
The library temporarily pulled the series from the shelves after an Aug. 9 meeting in which residents wrongly claimed the books were “pornographic.” One person at that earlier meeting claimed “homosexuals” were using the Heartstopper books “to recruit your kid, my kid and grandkid to get into that lifestyle.” The books also prominently feature a transgender girl.
Marion County Library Director Ryda Worthy and Branch Manager Mona Swayze, who did not have a say in the board’s decision to move the books, told the crowd that the only way a minor can obtain a book from the adult section is with parental permission.
‘We’re Protecting Our Children’
Within minutes of the board voting to restrict the Heartstopper books on Friday, though, members of the nearly all-white, mostly older crowd began demanding more restrictions on other books in the young adult section—where two teen boys were reading on the opposite end of the library.
“Who makes the decisions about buying these books that are not appropriate and are degrading to the morals of America? … Is it God’s will for us to have this type of material that the taxpayers are paying for?” one woman said.
Another woman stood up and carried a packet of papers to the board members seated at the front of the room.
“There are 14 books we’ve found that are objectionable and we’ve got a group that’s objecting to them and you can see them, you can find the names, and y’all might have an idea of what to do, but that’s some ideas of people that are objecting to these and we’re protecting our children,” she said.
The books or series on the list the group is asking the board to remove next, which all appear to be written by women authors, are as follows:
- “The Nowhere Girls” by Amy Reed
- “Story of A Girl” by Sara Zarr
- “Dress Codes For Small Towns” by Courtney Stevens
- “What Girls Are Made Of” by Elana K. Arnold
- “Burned” by Ellen Hopkins
- “Ready Or Not” by Meg Cabot
- “Luna” by Julie Anne Peters
- “The Upside of Unrequited” by Becky Albertalli
- “Shiver” by Maggie Stiefvater
- “Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell
- “All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven
- “Absolute Boyfriend” by Yuu Watase
- “A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl” by Tanya Lee Stone
- “Girl in Pieces” by Kathleen Glasgow
Efforts Tied To Moms For Liberty
Heather McMurry, a mother who homeschools her children and works as the accreditation manager at the Columbia Law Enforcement Training Academy, passed the list out around the room. She prompted the controversy over Heartstopper several weeks ago when she submitted a complaint about the series.
When the Mississippi Free Press asked McMurry what she found objectionable about the Heartstopper books on Thursday, she linked to BookLooks.org, which claims the graphic novels contain “sexual activities; alternate sexualities; alternate gender ideologies; profanity; and violence.” The only “sexual activities” the site’s reports for the Heartstopper books appear to describe, though, are instances of kissing and hugging. For example, the report for Volume 1 cites page 249 for an “illustration on the bottom of the page (that) depicts two young men kissing.”
The BookLooks directory McMurry linked to include a list of other books that the website warns parents against, including other LGBTQ+ books and also books by Black authors like Mississippi native Angie C. Thomas’ “The Hate U Give,” which deals with issues of systemic racism and police brutality. Its BookLooks report warns that it “contains inflammatory racial commentary; excessive/frequent profanity; and inexplicit sexual activities.”
Moms For Liberty member Emily Maikisch launched BookLooks in Florida in 2022 as the organization ramped up efforts to push for book bans in school libraries and public libraries nationwide.
Though Moms For Liberty began as a pandemic-era organization focused on fighting mask and vaccine mandates, it has since focused much of its energy on removing books about LGBTQ+ people and systemic racism from shelves. Earlier this week, a school board in Virginia ordered school librarians to purge books based on BookLooks’ recommendations.
Marion County’s library system is far from the first to be targeted for book bans in recent years. Other libraries in the state, as across the country, have faced efforts to ban books not only about LGBTQ+ people but also books about topics like systemic racism.
Last year, Madison County, Miss., residents spent weeks debating over an effort to ban LGBTQ+ books from Ridgeland’s library after an anti-LGBTQ+ group from Massachusetts began lodging complaints. The episode nearly cost the library its funding.
‘Remove The Books. Pull The Books.’
Three Mississippi lawmakers who represent parts of Marion County were in attendance at the library board meeting in Columbia on Friday afternoon: Sen. Angela Burks Hill, R-Picayune; Rep. Bill Pigott, R-Tylertown; and Rep. Ken Morgan, R-Morgantown.
Hill accused the library of violating state law with some of the books it carries in its young adult section.
“Mississippi already has a statute that prohibits sexually explicit materials from being displayed to minors, so all of these books are in violation of both 97-5-27 and 95-5-29,” she said to applause from those gathered.
That settled the matter as far as Morgan was concerned. “Remove the books. Pull the books,” he said.
The library board’s attorney, Carey Varnado, said the crowd was “speaking in generalities” and needed to be more specific about their issues with the books.
“You’re saying the materials should be removed. You have to go book-by-book,” he said. “Let me remind you there’s already a second motion adopted here for the staff to review every book for sexually explicit material, so they’ve already been addressed in that motion.”
Morgan urged him to “clean it up.”
“Just remember, the taxpayers pay for this institution to be here and somebody is drawing a salary to be here and if you can’t clean it up, we’ll get somebody who can,” he said, as a woman in the crowd complained to the person next to her that Morgan was “probably a state representative who gave (the libraries) a lot of money.”
Even after the board members adjourned the meeting, the book opponents gathered in the room continued to pelt them with questions, demanding to know how they got their positions and who hired the staff.
“We listened at the last meeting and this meeting was not for public comment,” Board Chairman Libby Aaron told the rowdy crowd as she prepared to depart the room. “There may be another one later on—I can’t say that for sure—but today this is all that we had on the agenda.”
‘Something As Simple As A Book’
“Rose,” a local mother who asked to use fake names to protect her and her child’s identities, came to the meeting prepared to read a letter she had written to the board defending Heartstopper, but the meeting ended before she could speak. She did not attend the Aug. 9 meeting because she had not been aware of it. At both that meeting and the meeting Friday afternoon, only opponents of the books spoke.
Rose said she felt uncomfortable in the room during Friday’s meeting and described it as akin to being in a room of “angry villagers” who wanted to “burn the witch.”
She and her 17-year-old son, “Jordan,” previously spoke to the Mississippi Free Press on Thursday, with Jordan expressing how “happy” they had been to see the Heartstopper books displayed in the library in June—only to have that joy stripped away by the efforts to remove the books.
“Seeing that gave me at least a little bit of hope that maybe this town was OK and that people like me, kids, would feel like it’s not a bad thing and feel like they can have something relatable to connect with and make them feel hopeful and happy and secure—something as simple as a book,” Jordan said Thursday.
While Rose and Jordan were relieved that the board did not ban the books outright, she noted that moving the books to the adult section means that if a child “has a homophobic parent,” they will not be able to access books about young people like themselves.
And if books like Heartstopper that contain no explicit sexual content cannot survive review and remain in the young adult section, Jordan said they doubt any books can.
“At this point, we should just take all of them and put them in the adult section,” they said. “It would save time.”