TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — Today, Florida House Speaker Paul Renner launched an investigation into Hillsborough County public school’s decision to keep a book on middle school shelves that features explicit instructions on anal and oral sex, hand jobs and how to use sex apps.
In his letter to Superintendent Addison Davis, Renner requests all communications, documents, Educational Media Materials Committee (EMMC) records and all meeting minutes related to author Juno Dawson’s This Book is Gay (2015).
THE BOARD IS “UNCOMFORTABLE”
In August, The Florida Standard reported on Julie Gebhards' efforts to convince the Hillsborough County School Board to review the books in question by reading portions aloud at board meetings. But school board members said parents reading excerpts aloud from school books featuring pedophilia, masochistic sex, masturbation, incestuous violent rape and other topics made them uncomfortable.
“For eighteen months, I’ve been bringing different, really despicable, books to them,” Gebhards tells The Florida Standard. “A Board Member sent me an email and asked me to stop reading from the books because the board is uncomfortable – the hypocrisy is so evident.”
Gebhards said that no reasonably-minded person would defend the books on school library shelves, easily accessible to eleven-year-olds. “I definitely think there is a loophole in the legislation that needs to be closed,” Gebhards said, referring to vague language about “educational materials” in HB 1467, legislation signed in 2022 that ensures curriculum transparency.
“The Media Specialist was adamant that she needed this book in the school library based on the needs of her community,” Julie Gebhards said. Gebhards directly asked the Media Specialist: “Do you have children asking you how to have anal sex? Because that’s a real problem.”
THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS
Speaker Renner said the House of Representatives seeks to understand the decision-making processes for allowing the book to be available to young children. In addition, while he appreciates the work of school administrators and teachers, he also wants records on how school officials have addressed objections by parents and county residents.
“While the vast majority of reading and educational materials in our school libraries are age-appropriate, some books are so clearly obscene and directed to children that they would be rejected by adult bookstores,” Renner told The Florida Standard. “Any fair-minded person reviewing these books would agree, and we will not tolerate continued efforts to bypass Florida law.”
Renner said the Hillsborough County Public Schools’ mission “to provide an education and the support that enable each student to excel as a successful and responsible citizen” is a noble goal. But he emphasized that nearly half of all Hillsborough County students read below grade level.
“We must focus all our energies on prioritizing learning and teaching the core skills – math, reading, writing – to unleash the full potential of every child,” Renner said. “The Florida House of Representatives has an obligation to protect our children and a responsibility to uphold Florida law, which prohibits schools from exposing young children to age-inappropriate materials.”
MOMS ON A MISSION
Tiffany Justice, the co-founder of Moms for Liberty, told The Florida Standard that she is incredibly thankful for the two Mom’s for Liberty members, Michelle Beavers and Jennifer Pippen, who served on the legislative workgroup for HB 1467. The workgroup helped the legislature develop a process for schools to vet controversial books.
Justice said the moms tried to send pictures of the books to the workgroup and other members by email. But Florida’s Department of Education servers bounced the messages due to the pornographic content in the books.
“I believe this situation we’re seeing is born out of the fact that Hillsborough County did, in fact, go through a review process of This Book is Gay. Through the review process, they put it back on the shelf – they said it was fine,” Justice said, calling the move an “egregious action.”
Julie Gebhards noticed several inappropriate books in the Hillsborough County district schools when her daughter came home one day and asked her to buy her a book.
“When I looked up the book, it had every sort of vile sexual act you can imagine – from pedophilia to rape and incest,” Gebhards told The Florida Standard. “I pulled my kids out of the public schools – partly because of that and partly because they weren’t learning anything.”