Librarian Warns Louisiana’s ‘Protecting Minors Tip Line’ Could Spark Free Speech ‘Witch Hunt’

Attorney General Jeff Landry debuted a tip line for inappropriate library material, sparking concerns from librarians and LGBTQ advocates

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Critics say a tip line launched by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry for “taxpayer-subsidized sexualization of children” at libraries is a symptom of an anti-LGBTQ moral panic.

The Protecting Minors tip line will field complaints about librarians, teachers and other school and library personnel. Landry made the announcement at Monday’s meeting of the St. Tammany Parish Republican Executive Committee.

“We believe libraries should be safe places for kids to develop a lifelong love of reading, discover intellectual passions, and pursue dreams for a fulfilling career – not where they are exposed (or worse) to books that contain extremely graphic sexual content that is far from age appropriate for young audiences,” Landry wrote in a Facebook post. “Rest assured that we are committed to working with our communities to protect minors from early sexualization, as well as grooming, sex trafficking, and abuse.”

Landry declined to answer questions as to whether he has investigated sex crimes against children originating in libraries.

Amanda Jones, president of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians, expressed disappointment that Landry is choosing to focus on what she described as a nonexistent issue.

Jones said she was worried the fear of being reported to the attorney general would have a chilling effect on legal speech for librarians.

“Not only is he going to be flooded with extremist groups, you’re just filling out these reports on teachers and librarians. It is going to become like this weird witch hunt that’s very reminiscent of the Salem witch trials or the McCarthy era,” Jones said. “You have the attorney general, stating these things, he’s running for governor. Well, nobody wants to speak out against that power.”

Jones said that in her more than 20 years as an educator and librarian, she has never seen an example of librarians providing sexually explicit material to minors.

“What these people are saying is pornography is books by the LGBTQ community,” Jones said.

St. Tammany Parish, one of the state’s most consistent Republican strongholds, has been the venue for high-profile fights over library content. Several complaints about a Pride Month display this summer triggered an internal review. Dozens of people came to a subsequent Library Board of Control meeting to support the display.

Similar confrontations have occurred in Livingston and Lafayette parish libraries, prompting concerns about censorship and LGBTQ prosecution.

Critics have called out conservatives for misappropriating the term “groomer,” which typically refers to the behaviors sexual predators use to coerce potential victims, to characterize benign actions by LGBTQ people as harmful to children.

Peyton Rose Michelle, executive director of Louisiana Trans Advocates, called out Landry’s rhetoric.

“Like AG Landry, I am committed to protecting minors, so I can support his call for feedback from the people of Louisiana,” Michelle said. “However, the incredibly inflammatory rhetoric that has fueled these conversations leading up to this action from the AG has not been based on evidence-supported claims.”

In 2018, Landry was criticized for his refusal to set up a tip line for clergy sexual abuse. Landry said at the time that he did not have jurisdiction to investigate these crimes and referred complaints to local police entities.

Cory Dennis, a spokesperson for Landry, said that the library tip line is related to Landry’s Cyber Crime Unit but declined to comment further on Landry’s jurisdiction.

Citizens for a New Louisiana, a conservative advocacy group based in Lafayette, has been connected to library battles in Lafayette and Livingston parishes.

The group has highlighted material in those libraries it has deemed inappropriate.

Michael Lunsford, the group’s executive director, applauded Landry’s actions. Unelected boards and commissions, such as local library boards of control, could benefit from Landry’s oversight, he said

“There are laws in the state of Louisiana about material harmful to juveniles,” Lunsford said. “So the attorney general in his capacity as the chief law enforcement officer in the state, it only makes natural sense that he would be curious and want to look into these things.”

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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