Emails obtained by The Daily Beast show Teri Patrick, a school board candidate in West Des Moines, Iowa, was part of group that wanted criminal charges brought against the local school district for “pornography” over two LGBTQ library books.
Patrick is running in the upcoming Nov. 7 election for a position on the West Des Moines Community Schools Board of Education. She is listed as the ‘Education Chair’ of the Polk County chapter of far-right group Moms For Liberty.
The emails, first reported by the Des Moines Register, show that Patrick was one of four signatories on a 2021 letter to then Polk County Attorney, Joseph Sarcone, reporting “incidents where pornographic material is being disseminated to children.” The “material” Patrick and the others objected to were Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe and All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, two books that were available in West Des Moines school libraries.
“The written descriptions and images in these books are blatant and meet the definitions in Iowa Code 728.1, such that immediate action should be taken,” the letter read, citing the state’s obscenity laws. “On a continuous basis, the District is disseminating pornography to our children.”
“Since the District perceives that it is not accountable to the parents and families it is meant to serve; our expectation is that your office will hold the School District accountable for complying with the laws of our state,” the letter continues.
Patrick had already been involved in efforts to get books restricted prior to this email, according to reporting by the Des Moines Register. In Oct. 2021, Patrick used a formal complaint process to challenge Gender Queer, saying she believed the book, which was available at the Valley Southwoods Freshman High School, should be removed.
“[Patrick] believed the book to be pornographic and sexually explicit and felt law enforcement should investigate if the district had violated Iowa law related to distributing obscene material,” the newspaper reported.
A committee tasked with fielding these complaints found the book was “properly selected” and was “autobiographical with literary merit, not pornographic,” the Des Moines Register reported.
Patrick then took her objection to the school board, which upheld the committee’s decision. She appealed to the Iowa Board of Education, which ruled in Aug. 2022, that Patrick’s complaint lacked standing, because her child was not a student at the time, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported.
Patrick did not immediately respond for a request for comment from The Daily Beast.
In a Jan. 2022 email, Nan Horvat of the Polk County Attorney’s Office told the group that she could not start investigating a case until a police investigation was underway.
“A police report was not filed as we had learned from another parent that the police declined to take action when they tried to file a report about this issue,” one of the signatories replied.
Subsequent emails between the U.S. Attorney’s office and another signatory of the letter, viewed by The Daily Beast, shows the group becoming increasingly frustrated with inaction from law enforcement, and considering whether to sue the district.
“We believe the impartiality of a civil case to determine the obscenity of these materials may the appropriate action,” a spokesperson for the group told the U.S. Attorney’s Office in an email on April 4, 2022.
No lawsuit was filed, but the emails reveal the extent of the efforts taken by this group of parents in the school district, and the frustrations they felt prior to the passage of Senate File 496—a state bill that came into effect in July 2023.
That bill, dubbed “Don’t Say LGBTQ+” legislation by the Human Rights Campaign, prohibits books with depictions of sex acts from school libraries and bans instruction on “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” in younger grades. The ACLU of Iowa described the legislation as “a wide-ranging bill with vague, highly problematic language.”
The Des Moines Register has a database of all the books currently banned from Iowa schools. As of the last update on Oct. 19, 450 books have been banned, including the Holocaust memoir Maus by Art Spiegelman, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and several novels by bestselling author Sarah J. Maas.