A Texas school superintendent told school district librarians to remove books from their shelves that talked about sexuality and transgender people according to a joint media investigation published Wednesday.
Prior to the return of students after the holiday break this January, Jeremy Glenn, the superintendent of the Granbury Independent School District in North Texas, told a group of librarians he met with that he needed to speak from his heart, according to ProPublica and The Texas Tribune in partnership with NBC News.
In the meeting with librarians, Glenn reportedly told them he had concerns over LGBTQ-themed books.
"And I'm going to take it a step further with you," he said, according to the media investigation. "There are two genders. There's male, and there's female. And I acknowledge that there are men that think they're women. And there are women that think they're men. And again, I don't have any issues with what people want to believe, but there's no place for it in our libraries."
He also told them if they were not conservative, "You better hide it."
Glenn added, "Here in this community, we're going to be conservative," according to a recording of the meeting obtained and verified by NBC News, ProPublica, and The Texas Tribune.
Conservative parents and politicians across Texas and the country have been pushing districts to remove books from school libraries containing descriptions of sex. They've even called several young adult novels "pornography." Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has called for criminal investigations into school staff who have allowed students access to these books.
Glenn echoed Abbot's ideas in his meeting with librarians.
"I don't want a kid picking up a book, whether it's about homosexuality or heterosexuality, and reading about how to hook up sexually in our libraries," Glenn is reported to have said.
The recording also has him being blunt in his directive. "Specifically, what we're getting at, let's call it what it is, and I'm cutting to the chase on a lot of this," Glenn said. "It's the transgender, LGBTQ, and the sex -- sexuality -- in books. That's what the governor has said that he will prosecute people for, and that's what we're pulling out."
According to a ProPublica and the Tribune analysis, the school district then embarked on one of the largest book removals in the country, pulling about 130 titles from library shelves for review. Nearly three-quarters of the removed books featured LGBTQ+ characters or themes.
In his recorded comments to librarians, Glenn described the review of 130 titles as the first step in a broader appraisal of library content, and a new policy approved by the school board later in January grants him and other administrators' broad authority to unilaterally remove additional titles.
NBC News, ProPublica, and the Tribune contacted legal, education, and First Amendment experts contacted who said the audio of the superintendent, combined with the decision to abruptly remove books from circulation, even temporarily, raises constitutional concerns.
"This audio is very much evidence of anti-LGBTQ and particularly anti-trans discrimination," said Kate Huddleston, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. Huddleston reviewed the recording at the request of the outlets. "It is very much saying the quiet part out loud in a way that provides very significant evidence that book removals in the district are occurring because of anti-LGBTQ bias."
Lou Whiting, a nonbinary junior at Granbury High School, said they were angry after they heard Glenn's comments. Whiting and another LGBTQ+ student told the outlets that classmates have harassed them at school, but they haven't reported it due to concerns that staff wouldn't take the complaints seriously.
Teachers also said they feared retribution, and cited Glenn's comments advising them against sharing views not shared with him.
According to the report, one of the students created an online petition that called on the district to return the books to the libraries, which drew more than 600 signatures. Weeks later, she and several other LGBTQ+ students attended a meeting of the district's board of trustees and called on the district to put the books back.
But the board instead voted to change a policy that had required contested books to remain on library shelves during a review by a committee. The new policy gave administrators more decision-making power to remove texts that they would deem to lack "educational suitability."
The three media outlets pointed out that the superintendent's comments reflect a broader national debate. GOP-led state legislatures across the country have been considering bills to restrict the ways teachers and staff discuss gender and sexuality in schools, such as Florida's "don't say gay" bill.