Books

Missouri Secretary of State Candidate Promises to Burn Books

Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She’s the editor/author of (DON’T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

In a message posted on Twitter February 6, 2024, Valetina Gomez, a candidate running for Missouri’s Secretary of State, stands poised with a flamethrower in her hands. The text introducing the video explains precisely what viewers will witness were she to be elected: “I will BURN all books that are grooming, indoctrinating, and sexualizing our children. MAGA. America First.”

It is an extremely difficult video to watch.

The video shows Gomez burning two books on a bar stool: Naked: Not Your Average Sex Encyclopedia by author Myriam Daguzan Bernier and Queer, 2nd Edition: The Ultimate LGBTQ Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge and Marke Bieschke. Both books are written for teens with the intent to help educate young people about their bodies, about puberty, and about sexuality in age-appropriate ways. The books are among those featuring LGBTQ+ content that have been under attack nationwide and more specifically, in Missouri.

Missouri has been a leader in legislation banning not only books but in restricting access to gender-affirming healthcare for young people. Per PEN America, Missouri ranked third in banning books in schools during the 2022-2023 school year.

Gomez is an immigrant to the U.S., an interesting fact that positions herself in opposition to many of the beliefs held and pushed by her own MAGA party. Among her other campaign promises are returning to paper-only ballots and hand counting elections, eliminating accessibility for voters in rural parts of the state, and emphasizing the importance of capitalism.

The book burning video, of course, harkens back to the era of Nazi book burning. Many of the books targeted in that era were precisely the types of books Gomez has positioned as the enemy: books celebrating, educating, and uplifting queer people and culture.

It’s worth emphasizing, though, it’s not only a harkening back to the Nazis. It’s a harkening back to other politicians in Missouri, too. In September 2023, a video went viral featuring Republican state senators Bill Eigel and Nick Schroer burning what looked like a pile of books. The books, it turns out, were actually not books but a pile of cardboard; however, when the video started to gain traction online as a book burning video, Eigel didn’t deny that he would beyond such actions.

“From a dramatic sense, if the only thing in between the children in the state of Missouri and vulgar pornographic material like that getting in their hands is me burning, bulldozing or launching (books) into outer space, I’m going to do that,” Eigel said in an interview with The Associated Press

Gomez’s video does show her using a flamethrower on real books.

There are currently seven bills in Missouri legislation this year that explicitly target libraries, educators, and books. Among them are a bill to modify the offense of providing explicit sexual material to a student (HB 1543); a bill that would halt the state librarian from disbursing funds to libraries that offer obscene materials to children (HB 1574); a bill that establishes a cause of action against libraries for furnishing or allowing access of pornographic materials to minors (SB 1330); and more that you can learn about and take action on.

The rise of book banning took hold in 2021, and states across the country have used them as a means to create not only a moral panic but an opportunity to sow fear. While Gomez claims that she will rid children of access to books she deems inappropriate, the reality is this isn’t about the books.

It’s about how Gomez and politicians like her–including Eigel, Schroer, and others in Missouri and beyond–want to eradicate queer people. Book burning is about instilling fear and stoking its flames.

It’s 2024. When politicians burn books, it tells you everything you need to know not only about their agenda, but about how broken the system is nationwide.

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