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South Carolina latest to join ‘ban the LGBTQ+ books’ effort by Republicans

Governor orders a comprehensive investigation into the presence of “obscene and pornographic materials in public schools in South Carolina”

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Former President Trump & South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster on June 26, 2018 (Screenshot via WCNC NBC 4 Charlotte, NC)

COLUMBIA, Sc. – In what has turned into a nationwide effort by Republicans at the local and state levels to remove and ban LGBTQ+ themed books from public schools, labeling those books “pornographic,” joining in this week, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster added his voice.

McMaster sent a letter to South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman asking her to “begin a comprehensive investigation into the presence of obscene and pornographic materials in public schools in South Carolina.”

In a follow-up tweet, the Governor added; “For sexually explicit materials of this nature to have ever been introduced or allowed in South Carolina’s schools, it is obvious that there is or was either a lack of, or a complete breakdown in, any existing oversight processes or the absence of appropriate screening standards.”

The Governor’s actions were preceded by outrage by conservative parents in the Fort Mill School District, (Officially known as York County School District 4). Parents had sent the Governor a copy of  Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, which is classified in the Comics & Graphic Novels > LGBT genre.

The book is written as an autobiographical look at author Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns. The 2020 ALA Alex Award Winner has frank illustrations of oral sex and other sexual content, along with discussions related to pronouns, acceptance and hormone-blocking drugs.

Greenville, South Carolina NBC affiliate WYFF 4 reported Thursday that the Governor reacted saying, “We looked at what was sent to us and I was shocked,” he said. “I stand with the parents who, of course, are standing for their children and there is no place in South Carolina for these kinds of inappropriate materials to be presented to young people.”

The Greenville County School District tells WYFF News 4 that a copy of that book has been in one of its high school libraries since March. It had only been checked out once, said GCS spokesman Tim Waller.

Waller added that district personnel reviewed the book and removed it from inventory.

The South Carolina Department of Education said it doesn’t have a role in choosing library books.

“Each district has its own board policy for review and purchase of library and media center books. It is clear that in this particular instance, the (Fort Mill School District) failed to properly vet the book in question for adoption,” said Ryan Brown, chief communications officer for the South Carolina Department of Education. “We had already begun a review of district policies concerning local purchases texts after this incident occurred and will make recommendations for improvement.”

The issue over LGBTQ+ themed books has become a lightening rod among conservatives. In Virginia, Spotsylvania County schools will have to begin removing books this week that contain “sexually explicit” material after the school board voted 6-0 to order the removal.

That directive comes after two parents raised concerns at a school board meeting about books available to students, particularly LGBTQ+ fiction.

In Texas, The Keller Independent School District had also removed — “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, after multiple parents complained about its availability to students in one of that district’s high schools.

The Texas Education Agency was instructed in a letter Wednesday by Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott to investigate “the availability of pornography” in the state’s public schools system and determine if criminal activity had occurred as a result.

The Governor’s order to investigate the alleged criminal activity comes two days after he had tasked state education officials to develop statewide standards preventing “pornography” and “other obscene content in Texas public schools,” citing two memoirs about LGBTQ+ characters which include graphic images and descriptions of sex the Texas Tribune reported.

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South Carolina

SC man convicted under anti-sodomy law sues over sex offender status

Convicted before SCOTUS ruling Lawrence v. Texas making it illegal to criminalize private intimate relationships between consenting adults

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Graphic via Gilles Law PLLC Rock Hill, SC

COLUMBIA, Sc. – A South Carolina man forced to register as a sex offender for having consensual gay sex with another man in 2001 is suing the state over its “unconstitutional” anti-sodomy statute. 

The man – identified as John Doe in the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of South Carolina and private attorney Matthew Strugar – was found guilty under the state’s anti-sodomy law, titled “buggery,” in 2001. As a result, he was forced to register as a sex offender, a status he holds today, even though he was pardoned in 2006, according to the complaint

His conviction came before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas that made it illegal to criminalize private intimate relationships between consenting adults.

Doe’s partner was also found guilty of the offense. 

“South Carolina is the last state in the country to require sex offender registration for pre-Lawrence sodomy convictions,” said Allen Chaney, ACLU of South Carolina’s Legal Director. “This practice needlessly subjects law abiding citizens to the horrors of the sex offender registry and demonstrates a deeply troubling animosity by the State towards the gay community.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, argues that requiring Doe to register as a sex offender violates his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection under the law. It names South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and Chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) Mark Keel as defendants. 

Robert Kittle, spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office, said Wilson did not have a comment on the pending litigation. 

Doe is seeking to have his name, and the names of other people convicted under the law, removed from the registry. According to the lawsuit, at least 18 people in South Carolina are still forced to register as sex offenders because of the buggery law. 

“It is unconscionable that in 2021, South Carolina would still put people convicted of having gay sex on the sex offender registry,” said Strugar. “This kind of overt, state-sanctioned homophobia would have been surprising 30 years ago. Today it is shocking. And it is unconstitutional.”

Doe’s lawyers write that a sex offender status “seriously restricts the public and personal lives of registrants,” adding that Doe “suffers severely under the sex offender label, which involves the state in the daily management of his life.” 

Doe said he was denied a professional license recently, leading him to bring the lawsuit forward. In addition, Doe must report to the local sheriff’s office twice a year and report information that is “encyclopedic in scope,” according to the complaint. 

“Doe suffers continuing harm because of the continued application of South Carolina’s Buggery statute,” the lawsuit alleges. 

“This is wrong, violates well-established constitutional law, and must be stopped,” wrote the ACLU of South Carolina in a press release. “Being gay isn’t a crime, and having gay sex isn’t a sex offense. Enough is enough.”

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