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What US mainstream media gets wrong about the ‘LGBTQ+ book ban’ in Dearborn

Dearborn parents argue that their issue is not with members of the LGBTQ+ community, but rather with books depicting sexually explicit content
Demonstrators who support the removal of books that contain sexually explicit content gather during a protest outside of the Henry Ford Centennial Library in Dearborn, Michigan, on 25 September 2022 (AFP)

Ayah was one of the hundreds of parents who attended a school board meeting in Dearborn last week to voice her concerns about having books in school libraries that depict sexually explicit acts, both in graphics and words.

Though she did not speak at the meeting, she silently stood with her friends, her heart filled with anger. She recalled how a journalist approached her and asked her why she was there. “Why does it seem like Muslims have an issue with the LGBTQ+ community?” the journalist asked her. 

Ayah walked away. 

“I wish I could scream this from the rooftops. We Muslims do not have a problem with gay people! You can be gay, you can be transexual, you can be bisexual. I do not care,” she told Middle East Eye over the phone Wednesday morning. “We Muslims have a problem with what is being shown in these books. We have a problem with the books. We don’t have a problem with you!”

'We wouldn’t have Playboy or Hustler in our school libraries'

- Amy Doukoure, Cair

Ayah said it isn’t hard to understand why the majority of news stories in mainstream media are pitting Muslims against the LGBTQ+ community, as Muslims are always portrayed as the bad guys and it’s the easy way out. 

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The chaos erupted after the Dearborn school district temporarily restricted access to seven books after parents raised concerns that the books contained sexually explicit content. But parents told MEE that the narrative from the media has since changed, with them turning it into an issue with the LGBTQ+ community.

Moustafa, who like Ayah didn’t want his last name used for fear that people will criticise him, has lived in Dearborn his entire life. He loves it so much that he continues to stay and raise his children there. After all, Dearborn is home to one of the largest Arab communities in the US, making up nearly 47 percent of the city's overall population. 

It saddens Moustafa when people don’t understand that the contents of the books he is trying to get removed are content that “no child should have to read”, he said.

“One of the books describes a sexual act. It is very explicit and very detailed. It shows graphic images as well as oral sex. How is that in any way appropriate?” he told MEE. “People can go be lesbians or gay. It’s not allowed in Islam, but what can we do about it? That’s not what we are calling for. We don’t want these books read by our children. What is so hard to understand?”

Muslims 'not at war' with LGBTQ+ community

Last week, The Guardian published a piece about the Dearborn protests, titled: “Conservative Muslims join forces with Christian right on Michigan book bans”. The article said: “A recent school board meeting at which about 1,000 people gathered in Dearborn, Michigan, to pressure district officials to censor books with LGBTQ+ themes was in most ways similar to hundreds of other recent book ban hearings across the US."

In an article by the Detroit Free Press, one paragraph describes a Muslim woman as "cloaked in a robe" when it says, "As he spoke, some in the crowd held up signs denouncing books and educational materials in the public schools that they believe are too explicit for children. 'Stop brainwash[ing] our children,' read the sign of a woman cloaked in a robe."

An article by Firstpost included the headline which began with, “Muslims don’t want LGBTQ+ books in schools.”

According to the parents, they are not pushing to censor books with LGBTQ+ themes. They are pushing to censor books that contain sexually explicit content, whether in text or visually, something that has been done before in other school districts. Some of those seven books the parents are trying to get removed from their school libraries just happen to include LGBTQ+ references or are written by authors that identify as LGBTQ+, parents told MEE.

The books in question contain “extremely graphic depictions and descriptions of sexual activity. These sexual acts include oral sex, sodomy and group masturbation (among teenagers), as well as step-by-step instructions and images explaining how to engage in various acts,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair) Michigan said in a statement.  

When concerned parents wanted to know their rights and what they could do to raise their concerns, they reached out to Cair.

“The mainstream media has portrayed this as an issue with the LGBTQ+ community. But this is not an issue in regards to authors or protagonists. It’s about the sexual nature of the books,” Amy Doukoure, the staff attorney at Cair Michigan, told MEE. 

There are several books and series that have already been “banned” from Dearborn public schools. Such books include the Fifty Shades of Grey series and the Game of Thrones series. These books are not eligible to be placed in the Dearborn school libraries because of the sexual content that is included. 

“The books these parents are trying to get removed are deplorable. They are books no parent of a 14-year-old would want them to read,” Doukoure said. “We wouldn’t have Playboy or Hustler in our school libraries.”

Doukoure believes this kind of bad journalism harms Muslims. She said that this is something that is a grassroots effort, not by Republicans or right-wing influencers, but led by parents in Dearborn. 

'They are books no parent of a 14-year-old would want them to read'

- Amy Doukoure, Cair

“The way the media portrays this, makes Muslims look like they are at war with the LGBTQ+ community. This is not about sexual orientation or gender identity. It plays on orientalist tropes of Muslims being homophobic,” she said.

“By painting this as an issue aimed at one group of people in a discriminatory fashion, it creates this divide among the community members who live together as neighbours and friends and colleagues. And it is not fair for them to do that just because it’s politically prudent for them to do so.”

Abdullah Hammoud, Dearborn’s Arab and Muslim mayor, took to social media to issue a statement saying that no book would be removed from the school shelves.

“The same dangerous ideology that once considered people like me ‘a problem’ in Dearborn is now being revived under the guise of preserving ‘liberty’,” he wrote.

“Our libraries serve as a gateway to knowledge, a gateway to imagination, and a gateway to possibility. When it comes to our city’s libraries, for the sake of our children, no book will be removed off the shelves.”

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