- One GOP lawmaker has led the push to ban books in Texas, a Houston Chronicle investigation found.
- In 2021, state Rep. Matt Krause asked school districts to review a list of 850 books.
- Texas now has the highest number of book bans in the US.
Texas librarian Carolyn Foote began to notice a trend in the spring of 2021 as she began getting ready to retire — challenges to children’s books in school libraries, specifically regarding race and sexuality, were on the rise.
After leaving her post, she says what accelerated the bans considerably was a list of 850 books for districts to review sent in October 2021 to the Texas Education Agency.
“I was a librarian for 29 years and we had three book challenges,” Foote, one of the founders of the #FReadomFighters movement, told Insider.
Texas is now a leader in book bans, and one influential politician — along with pressure from the GOP — may have been the driving force, a Houston Chronicle investigation found.
State Rep. Matt Krause — also chair of the General Investigating Committee, which conducts inquiries on matters of government — put forth the book query to assess how many school districts had books pertaining to topics that “contain material that might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress,” based on race or sex, according to a letter obtained by the Texas Tribune.
The book reviews were optional (Krause didn’t have the authority to make it mandatory), but after the list went out, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott got involved, pressuring schools to review books that contained “pornographic or obscene material.”
By April 2022, a PEN America analysis found that Texas had 713 bans, nearly half of all book bans in the US.
‘You know, we’d love to take credit if we could do that’
Out of 2,080 books reviewed for removals at schools done by districts since 2018, two-thirds of reviews occurred after Krause sent out his list, the Chronicle analysis found.
In an interview with Insider, Krause disagreed with the assertion that it all came down to one politician, and said parents in the state were the ones paying attention to the types of books that their children were reading.
“You know, we’d love to take credit if we could do that,” Krause said. “But there’s really no credit to be had. We actually just joined in what we had already heard from a bunch of parents around the state of being concerned over what books are in certain school districts.”
Many of the titles on Krause’s book list were written by authors of color and LGBTQ authors. The Chronicle analysis found that this influenced the types of book reviews that dominated school districts: 1,334 book reviews considered stories on LGBTQ+ while 609 prominently featured people of color or discussed racial issues.
Krause told Insider he could not specify whether or not his office generated the list due to “pending or potential investigations.” He also told the Dallas Morning News in 2021 he did not believe he had read any of the books on his list.
Krause told Insider the reason for his effort was to make sure that schools were complying with Texas state law on “race and sexuality” that had passed during the 2021 legislative session.
Abbott signed a “critical race theory” law in June 2021, which banned material that would make students “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex” in social studies curricula. The law was replaced by the more comprehensive Senate Bill 3 in December.
Krause voted yes on both HB 3979 and SB 3 in the House.
Texas did not pass any LGBTQ-specific education laws during the last legislative session, but Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick announced this year that he would prioritize passing a law modeled after what critics call Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.
“I do think it’s good for students, and I think it’s appropriate and healthy for students to be exposed to various viewpoints, diverse viewpoints, ideologies, beliefs, and things like that as we go through school, but I think you can do that in an age-appropriate, and in a reasonable and appropriate way,” Krause said.
Krause told Insider that the only personally objectionable books that came to mind were “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison. Both books deal with LGBTQ topics and contain some sexually explicit material.
But Foote said that many of the books she came across on the list didn’t contain explicit material and there was no academic rigor applied to the creation of the list.
“If this list were really intended to make sure schools were complying with the law, then I’m very uncertain how all those kinds of titles ended up on the list,” Foote said. “It seemed much more targeted in terms of someone’s belief systems.”
Ricardo Martinez, CEO of LGBTQ advocacy nonprofit Equality Texas, said the number of books with LGBTQ characters and authors on Krause’s list was concerning, especially because of the large number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in the Texas legislature in 2021.
“It’s disappointing that we are perceived as an easy punching bag,” Martinez told Insider.
Krause is known for being at odds with Texas’ LGBTQ community
Krause represents District 93 in Tarrant County, which includes parts of Fort Worth and Arlington. He’s served his district for five two-year terms.
In 2022, he ran for district attorney but lost the primary. He also ran for state attorney general, but his name didn’t appear on the ballot.
Krause’s legislative record, especially in regard to LGBTQ issues, has put him in the spotlight before: In 2013, Equality Texas named him the state’s most homophobic legislator. He also sponsored and authored multiple anti-LGBTQ bills, such as 2017’s HB 1923, which would have allowed businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ couples on the basis of religious beliefs. The bill never passed.
Krause was an adjunct professor at Liberty University Online, an Evangelical college in Virginia that banned “statements and behaviors that are associated with LGBT states of mind” as well as pronouns that differ from one’s sex assigned at birth, the Dallas Morning News reported in 2021.
He also has connections to WallBuilders, a Christian organization that seeks to emphasize the “moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built,” the Morning News reported.
Krause is also anti-abortion and previously tried — and failed — to establish the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision as a statewide “Day of Tears.”
He defended himself over the Dallas Morning News article, saying that although his faith “plays a role in everything that I do” it was not the reason why he started the inquiry.
Krause is leaving office next year and won’t be putting out another book inquiry, but he said Texans may continue to see book lists that review other pieces of legislation — it all depends on who’s at the helm of the investigating committee.
Some politicians and parent groups disagreed with the inquiry
Krause denies any political motivations behind the book list, but critics disagree.
For Foote, the book bans represent GOP political motivations, citing school board officials and lawmakers who have begun their own book challenges.
Not all school districts complied with Krause’s investigation, and many of the books remained in schools after reviews were done. San Antonio’s North East ISD banned or partially banned 119 books listed on Krause’s document, the most of any district, after pulling hundreds of books off shelves for reviews.
In a statement to the Chronicle, a spokesperson for NEISD said the books were misplaced in an elementary library out of concerns of “age appropriateness.” An NEISD spokesperson did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.
Krause’s colleague on the Texas General Investigating Committee, Rep. Victoria Neave Criado, was against his calls for districts to review their reading material and previously called the book inquiry a “whitewashing” of history.
—Victoria Neave Criado (@Victoria4Texas) October 28, 2021
A representative for Criado did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
The new frontier of book bans: self-censorship
Foote, along with other groups in Texas, have made some strides in keeping books on the shelves.
But now, Foote says, what’s lurking behind the book bans is the self-censorship that librarians are now grappling with in anticipation of backlash from politicians or parent groups or fear of personal repercussions.
“We don’t know how many things aren’t being bought now because the teachers are scared to have them in their classroom, because libraries are scared to have it… so there’s a lot of sort of self-censorship and self-restraint that is happening because people are scared,” Foote said.
A School Library Journal survey of 720 US school libraries taken in May found that librarians were self-censoring. Nearly 30% of respondents said they had decided not to purchase books with LGBTQ characters.
Foote said this results in a “chilling environment,” both for librarians and students who end up finding themselves in the middle of these battles.
“The fact that by removing books or censoring books about LGBTQ characters or characters of color, we’re basically telling them you don’t belong in our library,” Foote said. “Your history doesn’t belong in our libraries, which means you don’t belong here.”