Republican nominee for Michigan governor Tudor Dixon campaigns in Lansing on Aug. 27, 2022. | Allison R. Donahue
Updated, 7:08 p.m., 9/21/22
GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon announced during a Tuesday press conference outside the Michigan Department of Education in Lansing that she would consider banning “pornographic” books in K-12 schools if she were elected governor.
This is just the latest attack on books in K-12 schools, largely on books that cover race and LGBTQ+ topics or relationships.
As a candidate for governor, Dixon is the highest-profile Michigander to propose a book ban so far.
Dixon, who will face Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the Nov. 8 election, said if she were elected governor, she would consider legislation in the state that would ban books that are deemed “pornographic” — a historically difficult measure to define, even by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I would take a look at the books that we are seeing that are pornographic and make a decision on what we do to make sure that we are not having children reading pornographic — or having a teacher read — pornographic material to children or a child in school,” Dixon said during a press conference that took place during Banned Books Week.
Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made a similar move last year when he wrote a letter in November 2021 to the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) calling on schools to investigate why their libraries contained allegedly “obscene” and “pornographic” content in schools.
But where the line is on “pornographic” is unclear.
When asked by the Advance to define what she means by “pornographic” in terms of books in K-12 schools, Dixon said it was “two naked people, and they are acting out a sexual act, and multiple different sexual acts.”
After Dixon shared her definition of pornography, she then offered to send the Advance reporter examples of porn, which became a viral clip on social media. Rachel Bosscher-Atwood, a member of Michigan Liberty Leaders and Moms for Liberty who stood behind Dixon during the press conference, said she had “porn on my phone” when Dixon offered to send examples. Bosscher-Atwood also called on viewers of her Facebook livestream after the press conference to send porn to the reporter and said she wanted to “harass” the reporter.
Dixon’s campaign did not send examples of what she would define as porn.
Whitmer’s team did not respond to a request for comment on Dixon’s statements on banning books.
Dixon’s announcement did prompt some allegations of hypocrisy, like from Democratic consultant Adrian Hemond.
In the spring, videos surfaced of Dixon acting in zombie and vampire-themed productions that included some sexual scenes between other characters.
Dixon’s press conference focused on other education issues, including banning LGBTQ+ topics in curricula and transgender athletes from competing on sports teams that align with their gender identity. She also called on State Superintendent Michael Rice to resign, as the Advance previously reported.
A recent report from PEN America — an organization that advocates for the protection of free speech — found that from July 2021 to June 2022 there were 2,532 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,648 unique book titles in 138 school districts in 32 states.
Michigan, which ranked sixth in the nation for most books bans, had 41 book bans in four districts in the first nine months of the 2021-22 school year.
“Book banning and educational gag orders are two fronts in an all-out war on education and the open discussion and debate of ideas in America. Students have First Amendment rights to access information and ideas in schools, and these bans and legislative shifts pose clear threats to those rights,” wrote the authors of the PEN report. “This climate is also increasingly undermining the professional discretion of educators and librarians when it comes to matters of public education …”
The First Amendment organization also noted that the efforts to target books containing LGBTQ+ characters or themes frequently draw on stereotypes that suggest any LGBTQ+ content is inherently sexual or pornographic.
The PEN America report found at least 15 documented cases of criminal charges being filed or complaints being filled out regarding distribution of obscenity or pornographic material in public and school libraries during the 2021–22 school year.
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