Watch CBS News

SF author responds to Missouri politician burning his book

PIX Now afternoon edition 6-7-2024
PIX Now afternoon edition 6-7-2024 09:52

San Francisco author and co-owner of the city's iconic club known as The Stud, Marke Bieschke also has the dubious honor of seeing one of his books torched by a political candidate with flame-thrower on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.

In the video, Missouri secretary of state candidate Valentina Gomez props up at least two LGBTQ+-friendly books on a metal stool, stands back a few feet, then lets loose with a makeshift flame-thrower.

"When I'm Secretary of State, I will BURN all books that are grooming, indoctrinating, and sexualizing our children," she wrote on X. "MAGA. America First." 

Bieschke's book, "Queer: The Ultimate LGBTQ Guide for Teens," co-written with Kathy Belge, just so happened to be one of the ones she scorched, and he reposted her video Wednesday on his own X account.

"My book has been banned or challenged in several states -- and publicly burned by a candidate in Missouri!" writes Bieschke, who said he was posting it in part because it is Pride Month.

Despite being outright banned or challenged in Florida, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Idaho and Arizona, "Queer" is hopefully heading into a third printing, according to Bieschke.

"We really just wanted to write the book we wish we had access to growing up as queer teens and trying to learn more about what that meant," he said, adding that during his formative years of the 1980s and 90s, information on things like LGBTQ dating, sex, history, activism, social connections, coming out, and even what basic words like "queer" meant was very hard to come by.

Bieschke says he came upon Gomez's post randomly in his social media feed and recognized his own book at the tail end of her shooting blaze. 

"At first I couldn't believe it," he said. "The items in those historical photos of Nazis burning books were actually sex-positive, early LGBTQ books and manuscripts from groundbreaking sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, so it was not an exaggeration to say if felt like a return to those terrifying days, even if this time it was a Latina woman with a jerry-rigged flame-thrower and cheap Payless boots doing the burning." 

Bieschke said once he got over the shock, he realized he could use her stunt to spread the word about the book and make it even more available to queer youth -- the exact opposite of her intention with her video. Both authors worked with the GLO Center in Springfield, Missouri, a place for LGBTQ resources, advocacy and community connection, to get more books into local youth centers and libraries. 

"Possibly even the one she claimed she had stolen the book from in the first place," said Bieschke.

The first edition of "Queer" came out in 2011 and then a second printing was released in 2020, which was revised to better reflect the country's seeming greater acceptance -- and even in some cases celebration -- of queerness, with revisions in consultation with transgender writer Mia Tu Mutch and a panel of teens from every background.

But with more recent civil rights strides such as marriage equality came a backlash against gender affirming care for transgender people and outright laws against drag shows. 

Indeed, Gomez has placed homophobia squarely in the center of her platform, where she often equates queerness with pedophilia or "grooming," which is generally defined as manipulating a child or young person so as to sexually exploit or assault them. Some extremists believe that people can be "turned gay" by grooming.

Gomez is on the Aug. 6 primary ballot in Missouri and is hoping to fill the seat of Republican Jay Ashcroft, who is running for governor. If elected, one of Gomez's duties as secretary of state would be to oversee many aspects of libraries, which she said are currently repositories of "pornography."

On her campaign site, she leaves out the more bombastic language she saves for social media, but she does have "Library Accountability" as one of her campaign promises. 

"Valentina will review library funding, and programs to ensure they genuinely strengthen Missouri's future," it says.

Gomez, a 24-year-old native Colombian, has made many homophobic statements, including a video of her jogging through a gay-friendly area of St. Louis in a bulletproof vest with the words, "In America, you can be anything you want, so don't be weak and gay."

The videos Gomez create do tend to go viral, which may account for the fact that the vast majority of her campaign donors are from out of state, including two people from California, according to April campaign filings.

Gomez did not respond to a request for comment. 

Her stance on LGBTQ+ issues led to a parting of ways this week between her and Nestle Purina, where she worked in "finance and strategy," according to her LinkedIn profile. Gomez posted a video of herself in front of Purina headquarters saying she "fired" them for being "woke," adding that she will not support a company that "wants to empower and protect pedophiles."

A spokesperson for Nestle Purina confirmed Thursday that Gomez had left the company.

"At Purina, we are deeply rooted in respect, and throughout her employment, Ms. Gomez was treated with the same respect as all employees. We also respect her decision to part ways to pursue her political ambitions," the company said.

Purina also said that her book-burning video is not a reflection of their values, after Gomez first posted it in February.

"Ms. Gomez does not speak for Purina with her words and actions. The behavior in this video runs counter to the expectations we have for our employees," the company said. 

When asked how it feels to be equated with a "groomer," Bieschke quipped that he likes guys his own age, thank you very much.
"Seriously, though," he said, "if talking honestly and openly about sexuality and sexual health are 'grooming,' then parents have been doing it to their own kids for ages." 

Bieschke said there is nothing any more graphic in the book that what would be presented in a basic sex education course. And he and Belge saw it as their duty to make sure safer sex and sexual health information was available to young people, especially after living through the AIDS crisis.

"Not to mention information about depression, suicide helplines, bullying, online harassment, substance abuse, and general safety," he said. "It's a matter of life and death to teens who are still marginalized and oppressed. The only thing we are 'grooming' young people for is a happy, fulfilling life full of love and freedom of self-expression."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.