North Dakota Anti-Trans Law Will Jail Librarians For Displaying Books About Sexual and Gender Identity

Health and Gender Policy Brief #156 | By: Caroline Howard | January 31, 2023

Header photo taken from: Nadezhda Soboleva / Eyeem / Getty Images




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Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education programs at the Utah Pride Center, poses with books that have been the subject of complaints from parents in recent weeks in Salt Lake City. Books containing “sexually explicit” content — including depictions of sexual or gender identity — would be banned from North Dakota public libraries under legislation that state lawmakers heard arguments for recently.

Photo taken from: Rick Bowmer / The Associated Press

Policy Summary

A new law introduced in North Dakota will make it a class-b misdemeanor for librarians in public libraries to have any books on display that are deemed “sexually explicit”. Within this list of topics that meet the definition of sexually explicit, are the classifications of sexual identity, and gender identity. 

Public libraries in this case are defined as “a library containing collections of books or periodicals for the general population to read, write, borrow, or refer to which is supported with funds derived from taxation.” If a librarian refuses to take down books that have either sexual or gender identity-related topics, they will be either given a fine of $1,500 or will be detained for a maximum period of 30-days, which is standard for under North Dakota’s criminal definition of a class-b misdemeanor.

Policy Analysis

What this policy is attempting to accomplish in many ways is to drive trans, gay, and queer people in general out of the mainstream of society, and relegate them to the outskirts. It has been proven empirically that when someone knows a person who is of a marginalized group, in this case, a transgender person, they are more likely to accept trans people in general. 

With that, the more people that start to accept trans people into the mainstream as just something that is normal (because it is normal), the harder it is for people who want bills like this implemented to be able to attack the trans community without consequences. 

One of the main ways that it attempts to achieve this goal is by lumping  being gay or transgender with a whole litany of other topics that absolutely do meet criteria of a sexually-explicit nature, and should most certainly not be allowed in public libraries. When people are able to successfully compare being transgender to something like pedophilia, it is a lot easier to dehumanize transgender folks, which can lead to much deadlier consequences down the line. 

This is already being attempted across the country with the narrative that all people who are in the LGBTQ+ community are “groomers” who want to harm children. Such a narrative  also led to the mass shooting at Club-Q in Colorado a couple of months ago, as well as the countless murders of transgender people across the U.S. that have both been reported and not reported.

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As school book bans have gained traction in the U.S., a case unfolded last September where a bid to remove two LGBTQ books in a Chicago school district narrowly failed.

Photo taken from: WBEZ Chicago

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It is a lot harder to attack a bill that has some good qualities to it, like banning other forms of sexual content that would actually harm children, because then the groomer label gets thrown in your face, and the potential harm can come your way. 

This rhetoric is very dangerous and only serves the purpose to tie trans and queer people in with pedophiles and abusers of children. The only thing that is accomplished is pushing transgender people to the outskirts of society, where it is much likelier that they are dehumanized generally, and at worst killed. Even if this bill passes, it is not very likely that it will be implemented, at least for now. Court battles will rage on, and potentially rise up to the Supreme Court. 


From there, there is really no telling whether or not the Justices would allow a bill like this to be implemented. Gorsuch in 2020 voted on the side of adding transgender and gay people to the list of people covered under the anti-discrimination portion of the Civil Rights act, so there is a small bit of hope there. 

If this bill fails in the courts, it is still a reminder of the legislation, and harm politicians in the GOP will try to wage on marginalized groups, and how it is imperative that we do not let it spread to the federal level. They are speaking loud and clear on what their intentions for queer people in America are, and it is time for all of us to listen.

Engagement Resources​

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ACLU: | “The ACLU has evolved in the years since from this small group of idealists into the nation’s premier defender of the rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. With more than 1.7 million members, 500 staff attorneys, thousands of volunteer attorneys, and offices throughout the nation, the ACLU of today continues to fight government abuse and to vigorously defend individual freedoms including speech and religion, a woman’s right to choose, the right to due process, citizens’ rights to privacy and much more.”


The LGBT Task Force: | The National LGBTQ Task Force advances full freedom, justice and equality for LGBTQ people. We are building a future where everyone can be free to be their entire selves in every aspect of their lives.


Trans Lifeline: | Trans Lifeline is a grassroots hotline and microgrants 501(c)(3) non-profit organization offering direct emotional and financial support to trans people in crisis – for the trans community, by the trans community.

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