Huntington Beach leaders are set to discuss potentially removing books in the city’s libraries this coming week at their Tuesday meeting, setting up a major debate over how much control politicians have over what their residents get to read. 

It comes after the city’s libraries were criticized by local conservatives for hosting a Pride Month event earlier this month, celebrating Rainbow Book month and including a list of books focused on the LGBTQ+ community for teenagers. 

Councilwoman Gracey Van Der Mark is proposing to limit or ban access to such books for kids, saying she’d learned that city libraries had recently given “pornographic” material to children.

“It has been a longstanding problem in public education that children are being exposed to obscene, and age inappropriate material by adults, many of whom are educators we have entrusted with our children,” Van Der Mark wrote in a memo to her colleagues. “Our City libraries should not be engaged in infecting our children with obscenity or pornography.” 

In an interview Friday morning, Van Der Mark said her goal was not to ban any books or make them inaccessible to adults, but to ensure kids weren’t able to access any sexually inappropriate material. 

“There’s a book in the teen section, which is for grades 7-12. The book mentions what a vagina tastes like and it also shows kids how to perform oral sex,” Van Der Mark said. “I don’t think a middle school child should be taught what a vagina tastes like. This is the kind of material we have to figure out how to best handle.” 

Her proposal would have City Attorney Michael Gates, the only elected city attorney in Orange County, review any books or materials deemed obscene and have them taken out of places minors could access. 

But details on what books would be labeled explicit or where they would be moved to haven’t been decided yet, according to Van Der Mark. 

“This is the beginning of the process to find answers,” she said. “We don’t want to violate anyone’s freedom of speech or their right to this material, but we need to find a way to put safeguards in place for our children.” 

Councilman Dan Kalmick criticized the proposed policy in a Friday interview, saying it read like a “bad wedding speech,” that took away the choice from parents on what their kids should be allowed to read. 

“The policy itself is ridiculous. The city attorney shouldn’t be making decisions on what’s in the library, our libraries should be a trove of knowledge,” Kalmick said. “I think it’s ironic that someone who’s pro choice for parents wants to take choice away from parents.”

Van Der Mark has been a long time critic of the content available in the city’s libraries, posting regularly on a Facebook page called Informed Parents of California about her concerns. 

In Jan. 2020, she posted about a book she’d found in the young adult section of the city’s library titled “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” that shows multiple comic panels of people discussing masturbation, oral sex, sex toys and other sexual topics. 

“Teenagers already have an abundance of sources where they can access porn,” Van Der Mark wrote in the post. “If you are opposed to this book being around our youth please go into your local library and fill out a form asking for it to be reevaluated.”  

She also recently spoke out against a video shown at Edison High School reminding students about Pride Month. 

“At no time was the teacher concerned with the student’s visceral reactions as they watched the video clips of couples in intimate positions and poses,” she said at the Ocean View school board’s meeting last Tuesday. “In my opinion, it was not the students who were being inappropriate in that video.” 

Shortly after the video from Edison High went viral, a series of anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ+ pamphlets were posted in the neighborhood around the school. 

[Read: Anti-LGBTQ+ and Anti-Semitic Flyers Distributed to Huntington Beach Homes]

Kalmick and Councilmembers Natalie Moser and Rhonda Bolton have called on their colleagues to vote in favor of denouncing hate at their meeting next Tuesday, with the item currently scheduled for discussion after they debate the book policy. 

It comes after a contentious debate among Orange County Supervisors earlier this month on whether or not to allow the Pride Flag and other flags to fly on county property. 

[Read: OC Supervisors Ban Pride Flag at County Properties Under New Policy]

A split Supervisors’ vote ultimately banned the rainbow banner, restricting flags on county property to U.S., state and county flags – along with the prisoners of war/missing in action flag. 

After banning the Pride Flag, Orange County Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to recognize June as Pride Month. 

[Read: Orange County Recognizes Pride Month But Won’t Fly Rainbow Flag]

While Van Der Mark’s memo doesn’t define the benchmark for explicit material, it referenced the Miller test, a set of three standards based on a Supreme Court case that defines what can be legally considered obscene. 

Under the Miller test, city leaders would have to prove that the content was sexual and would be viewed as “erotic,” by the average person, and prove that the content does not possess “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Van Der Mark’s memo did not address where the censored material would be made available, and she said that’s something that would be recommended by city staff in the future. 

She’s also not the only person to raise complaints with content in the city library. 

On social media, people have been criticizing the city library for hosting events aimed at the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month.

Earlier this month, city librarians highlighted the city’s online portal for books promoting Pride Month, many of which were young adult books about the gay community and offering resources for those who identify as LGBTQ+. 

In a post to the library’s calendar, the city also highlighted a special event on June 3 for teenagers to learn more about the history of the LGBTQ+ movement. 

“(Huntington Beach Public Library) invites teenagers to learn more about the history of LGBTQ+ folks in America with our first ever kits celebrating this cultural and historical recognition month,” wrote staff for the event description. “Kits will include activity instructions, book lists, resources for further exploration, and most activity materials.”

Van Der Mark also asked city staff to look into cutting ties with the American Library Association, the oldest and largest library association in the world according to their website. 

If approved by the city council, Van Der Mark wants city staff to come back in August with new rules giving the City Attorney power to evaluate what books and materials are made publicly available.

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @NBiesiada.


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