Here’s what you need to know about HB 4654

As you know, West Virginia lawmakers are currently in session. A new bill was introduced recently, House Bill 4654, that has many people concerned. I wanted to take a few minutes to explain this bill and what it would do if it’s signed into law.

State law currently makes it a crime to show “obscene matter” to minors. That’s a good law that protects our kids. If you violate that law, you risk serious fines and even jail time.

HB 4654 is actually really simple to understand. Current law exempts schools, museums and libraries from facing criminal charges for violating that law – for exposing minors to “obscene matter.” HB 4654 removes the exemption for schools, libraries and museums. But that does not mean the bill bans LGBTQ+ content.

I want to be crystal clear about what this bill does not do. It does not change the definition of what is obscene. It does not label LGBTQ+ people as obscene. It does not say that stories or art about LGBTQ+ people are obscene. This bill – as it’s currently written – should not change anything about our schools or the materials teachers can use in class.

That’s because what the law considers to be “obscene matter” is really specific. Decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued specific rules about what things can be considered “obscene,” and those rules match our state law.

LGBTQ+ people are not obscene. The stories and books about our lives are not obscene. Nothing in HB 4654 changes that.

But I also want to be clear that this is a bad bill. It’s clear that some lawmakers want to eliminate any mention of LGBTQ+ people in our schools, museums and libraries. And although this bill won’t accomplish that goal, it could have a serious chilling effect on free speech.

Teachers may not understand this bill, and decide to cut any mention of LGBTQ+ people from their class in fear of facing criminal charges. It may make them rethink whether their classroom can be a safe space for all students.

LGBTQ+ people are not obscene. We are your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues – and yes, even your teachers. And we’re not going anywhere.

Yours in Fairness,

Andrew Schneider
Executive Director