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A PAC vilifying Central Bucks Dems is warning voters about sexually explicit images by mailing out explicit images

Letters sent by a PAC warn Central Bucks parents about content in some books. But who is seeing the pictures raises questions.

Anti-censorship advocates dressed as books parade through Doylestown last year capping Banned Books Week. Two books banned by Central Bucks are being depicted in a mailer attacking Democratic candidates for the school board.
Anti-censorship advocates dressed as books parade through Doylestown last year capping Banned Books Week. Two books banned by Central Bucks are being depicted in a mailer attacking Democratic candidates for the school board.Read more

Last Thursday, Shannon Hiller came home to find her 13-year-old daughter upset and embarrassed. She told her mother she hoped she wasn’t in trouble.

Hiller’s daughter had opened an envelope that came in the mail — her attention grabbed by red lettering on the front that mentioned “Central Bucks School Libraries.”

Inside was a flier with a cartoon depicting oral sex, and a line drawing of a penis.

The images came from two books banned by Central Bucks following a controversial policy passed last year by the Republican-led school board: Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe, and This Book Is Gay, by Juno Dawson.

“Extreme Central Bucks Democrats are fighting to keep these books in our middle school and high school libraries,” the flier read. “Request an early vote ballot to protect our children!”

The mailing was the product of a new political action committee promising to “expose” the Democrats seeking election to the Central Bucks school board in November — highlighting the culture-war battles that have engulfed the district since the pandemic.

Stop Bucks Extremism says it sent the mailers to 17,000 households along with an early vote application and prepaid return envelope.

“With parents preparing to send their children back to school, we will be reminding them that the radical Democrats running for Central Bucks School Board are fighting tooth and nail to teach children as young as five years old about performing fellatio and engaging in anal sex, along with educating them about the supposed pleasure of eating feces and urinating on people,” Bob Salera, the PAC’s founder, said in a statement on the group’s website.

The mailer is “just the beginning of our paid advocacy efforts, and by the time we are finished highlighting the disgusting positions of Karen Smith, Heather Reynolds, Susan Gibson, Dana Foley and Rick Haring, they will be ashamed to be seen in public,” Salera said.

The illustrations are meant for “our oldest students,” said Smith, a Democrat on the board seeking reelection. But the PAC “has done more to expose younger students to age-inappropriate material with this mailing than hundreds of library books could ever have done.”

Salera said that voters needed to know what was in the books. “If these images coming to their homes in a sealed envelope was offensive, it’s even more offensive that they were available to children” in school libraries, he said.

Hiller, whose daughter opened the mailing, didn’t see it that way. While the envelope said “Caution: Contains Sexually Explicit Images,” Hiller said her daughter struggles with reading comprehension and didn’t pay attention to that phrase. Her 7- and 6-year-old siblings were next to her when she opened it.

“It was just underhanded,” Hiller said. “Do they want the kids to look at this? Do they want to rile us up?”

A political consultant and ‘multiple funders’

A Republican political consultant based in Alexandria, Va., Salera previously has worked on Pennsylvania state races, including former Delaware County Councilman Dave White’s gubernatorial campaign last year.

In an interview Thursday, Salera said he founded the PAC after “conversations with some concerned parents in the Central Bucks School District.” Asked whether those parents included Paul Martino, a venture capitalist and GOP donor who spent more than $500,000 on Pennsylvania school board races in 2021, Salera declined to give any names.

“We have multiple funders that will be disclosed in due course,” Salera said.

Martino — whose wife, Aarati Martino, is among the Republicans running for school board, and whose Bucks Families for Leadership PAC is directly supporting the Republican candidates — declined to comment Thursday on whether he was involved with the Stop Bucks Extremism PAC.

Instead, he directed a reporter to his Facebook page, where he said in a post Thursday that a Bucks County Courier Times article about the PAC’s mailers had proved his point that the removal of books was “not about gay rights, this is about PORN.” The paper, Martino noted, had blurred the images from Gender Queer and This Book Is Gay.

The books were pulled from Central Bucks libraries in May — the first bans under a district policy barring “sexualized content” in library books that was passed by the Republican-led board last year over objections from Democrats. Critics accused the board — which enlisted a legal group focused on religious liberty to help implement the policy — of seeking to remove LGBTQ-themed books; the district said its focus was ensuring age-appropriate materials.

Of the first five books reviewed under the new policy, four centered on LGBTQ characters. While deciding to remove Gender Queer and This Book Is Gay — issuing reports indicating the books contained prohibited sexual content, but offering little insight into the review committees’ other deliberations — the district retained Beyond Magenta, Lawn Boy, and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

The district has yet to issue findings on 60 more books that have been challenged.

‘A pack of lies’

Democrats say they never sought to make Gender Queer or This Book Is Gay available to young children. “It’s a pack of lies,” Smith said. “I’ve never said anything like that.” Before their removal, Smith said she believed Gender Queer was available only at Central Bucks South High School, while This Book Is Gay was at Tamanend Middle School.

Asked to explain how Democrats wanted to make the books available to 5-year-olds, Salera said that Central Bucks’ online library catalog, Destiny Discover, “allowed access to these sexually explicit books about eating feces and urinating on other human beings. Prior to last year, the original Destiny Discover program allowed across-school access to kids as young as kindergarten.” He didn’t answer a follow-up question on whether “access” meant children could view the content online, as opposed to reserving a book from a library building.

The school district did not respond to a request for comment.

The “feces” and urinating references appears to be drawn from This Book Is Gay, which includes a list of sexual slang, including “scat” and “golden showers.” On its mailer, Stop Bucks Extremism quotes another section of the book that refers to sexual activity by stimulating the prostate gland and “bum.”

The book, which is nonfiction, focuses on queer identities, stereotypes, and sex education. Dawson, the book’s author, has said she wishes “young queer people could go out into adulthood armed with better knowledge, and ways of being smart about sex and dating.”

She also disagrees that it’s pornographic. “I would challenge anyone to be titillated or aroused by what is essentially a textbook,” she told Rolling Stone earlier this year.

Gender Queer — the most challenged book in the United States in 2021 — is a graphic memoir describing author Kobabe’s experience as a young person grappling with gender identity. It has come under fire for some of its images, including illustrations depicting oral sex. (In that panel, the character stops the act, saying it had been imagined it differently.)

Hiller, the mother whose teenager opened the mailer, said she is an independent, “middle-of-the-road” voter, who didn’t know enough about the books to have an opinion: She hasn’t read them, she said, and doesn’t know what librarians have to say. But she was upset after getting the mailing.

“It’s not upset at the school, it’s not upset at the book, it’s upset at this organization,” she said.

As for what Hiller told her daughter, “I said to her, ‘This isn’t your fight,’” she said.