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CDF-Texas Statement on HB 900 — March 21, 2023

Chair Buckley and members, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I work for Children’s Defense Fund – Texas, a nonpartisan children’s advocacy organization that works for and with young Texans and families to ensure that every child has what they need to thrive with the support of loving communities.

We urge you to reject fearmongering, reject book banning, and oppose HB 900. Unlike current collection policies, the overreaching censorship system created by this bill is not based on child development. It instead creates a subjective and homogenous scale for all age groups that ultimately will harm children.

HB 900 states that books must be rated based on their “offensiveness” to “current community standards of decency”. But even when we can agree on those fluid standards, the truth is that there are children suffering from offensive conduct every day, and refusing to educate them exacerbates the harm. About 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys in the United States experience child sexual abuse. The Color Purple, The Bluest Eye, Speak…these books could all be banned under this bill for their portrayals of sexual assault, despite empathetically depicting realistic and relatable experiences. Talking about offensive conduct in books doesn’t mean condoning it. A book may be the first place that a child finds the language to describe what is happening to them and recognize that it is wrong. When we deprive children of information, we make it easier for them to be harmed without having the information to ask for help. 

There is a better way if the goal here is really protecting kids: Have a conversation with your child. It is our responsibility to help children make sense of the information they learn, not expose them to further harm through censorship.

But unfortunately that’s not the goal. We know what this legislation is really about. Because we’ve seen the book banners using this same language to travel from district to district, emptying school libraries of books just because they mention LGBTQ+ history or characters. Books like This Day in June, that celebrates the joy and community of Pride. Books like Julián is a Mermaid, about a boy who wants to dress up as a mermaid. 

Let me be clear that the presence of LGBTQ+ characters and stories does not constitute sexual material. LGBTQ+ people do a lot in our daily lives that has nothing to do with sex. Nor is the existence of LGBTQ+ people “patently offensive” to the vast majority of young people and adults in the United States. But too often, through ignorance and fear, sexual identity and sex have been equated to ban books and signal to LGBTQ+ kids that their stories don’t belong in our communities. We need inclusive and representative books to create the safe, supportive schools we all want for our kids, regardless of their race, gender, or sexuality.

You don’t have to legislate out of fear. You can choose differently. Let’s give our students the resources they need to thrive, including information. Including books.

Thank you, and I’m happy to take any questions.

Maggie Stern
Youth Program and Policy Manager

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