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This California Surf City Is Moving More and More to the Right With Books Bans and Other Policies

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Huntington Beach has taken a sharp right turn.

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Huntington Beach, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles that’s famed for surfing, is quickly becoming famed for its far-right politics as well.

The city, located in Orange County, has long been conservative, but city officials have stepped up their right-wing activism this year. After a brief time with a liberal majority, the City Council has been dominated by conservatives since the 2022 election. In February of this year, the council voted to cease displaying the Pride flag. It followed that by removing language condemning hate crimes from a human relations document and creating a new board to regulate public library materials — a move aimed primarily at getting rid of LGBTQ+ books, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Gracey Van Der Mark, a council member elected last year, has been the driving force behind policing library books, according to the Times. She campaigned on a slate with three other conservatives, all of whom were elected.

Those conservatives outvoted three other council members to establish the library review board in October. The board, which can have up to 21 members, “will have the final say on what new children’s books can hit public library shelves,” Orange County's Daily Pilot newspaper reported at the time. “It will also review books currently in the library to see if they should be moved out of the children’s section.” The council established the board even though most residents who commented at the meeting were against it.

“The whole goal [is] to make our libraries the safest place for our children,” Van Der Mark told the Pilot. “I’ve been working with cleaning up our school libraries for many years, seven years. In spite of the fact that I brought forward books that were controversial, very sexually explicit books, there was always a lot of pushback.” In 2020, she campaigned successfully to have Maia Kobabe’s memoir Gender Queer removed from the teen/young adult section of the public library.

She claimed the board’s appointment isn’t a book-banning effort, just a way to increase parental involvement. Library staffers make decisions about what books to include or exclude all the time, she pointed out. But City Council Don Kalmick, who opposed setting up the new board, “responded that there’s a nuanced difference between a librarian’s collection procedure and a review board of people appointed by a political board deciding about community standards for sexual content,” the Pilot reports.

Also this year, the council voted to rescind a document created in the 1990s, called a Declaration of Policy About Human Dignity, and replace it with a more conservative version. The original document was created in response to white supremacist gatherings in the city and crimes against people of color. It said that Huntington Beach “declares that everyone should be treated with courtesy and respect, regardless of their racial background, their nation of origin, the religion they practice, their sexual orientation, gender or disability status. It is the right of all citizens to pursue their daily lives with the knowledge that they will not be physically harmed or verbally abused.”

The replacement doesn’t mention hate crimes, the Times notes, but instead takes a stand against “exploitation and sexual grooming” of children and says the city “will recognize from birth the genetic differences between male and female and respect the strengths and benefits of each.”

“The terminology is widely seen as a dog whistle for evangelicals and social conservatives,” the Times reports. LGBTQ+ activists are often accused, baselessly, of “grooming” children for abuse.

The city’s rightward turn has dismayed many residents, even some of those who voted for the conservative slate. “Which one of our council members campaigned on the platform of changing our library collection?” Sue Welfringer, who voted for the slate because it supported businesses and sought to limit city growth, told the Times. “I must have missed that message. I feel duped.”

“What’s happening at the national level — the dysfunction and the partisanship — it’s all just trickling down,” said council member Rhonda Bolton, a Democrat and the first Black person on the council. “I’m frequently critical of what I see happening because I’m like, you’re importing all of these issues into our public policy discussions that don’t have anything to do with us. They’re not relevant.”

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.