France's ultra-conservative right wing groups, have opened up a new front in their ongoing and increasingly bitter battle with the Socialist government over the protection of so-called "traditional family values"
In recent days a radical right wing group "Printemps Français" has demanded certain kids' books they believe advance "gender theory" – a term they use to describe teaching children that gender can be flexible – be pulled from the shelves.
Government ministers have denounced the "pressure from extremists" and defended the "independence" of libraries.
Many of the dozen or so publications that were first singled out by a right-wing blog are LGBT-themed such as “My Two Daddies”, and others some bring up the subject of children’s bodies like “Does Madame Zazie Have a penis?” Another, "Bill's New Frock" is about a boy who wakes up to find he has been transformed into a girl.
Béatrice Bourges, president of "Printemps Français", which is linked to the anti-gay marriage movement Manif pour Tous (Demo for all), has called on parents to ring the local libraries and mayors demanding the books be removed.
Bourges told AFP this week they want to keep these books away from children.
“The books put the idea in little girls or boys’ heads that they aren’t necessarily boys or girls due to their biological gender, but they will be able to decide when they grow up,” she said. “These books need to be set aside.”
Their campaign appears to have been given support by the leader of France's conservative UMP opposition party Jean François Copé.
He joined the fray on Sunday when, during an interview, he slammed a children’s book, named "Tous à Poil" (Everybody get naked) – a book which seeks to remove the stigma of nudity for children by showing people from all walks of life getting undressed.
Copé expressed his shock when he claimed the government’s centre for teacher support had recommended the book for use in schools.
“When I saw that my heart skipped a beat,” he told RTL radio. “There comes a moment when lawmakers have to do something about what is happening in this country.”
The government later indicated it had not recommended the book, rather it was a local association that promotes reading among children.
And the pressure campaign by Printemps Français has paid off with the mayor of the well-to-do, conservative Parisian suburb of Chesnay already having taken action. Philippe Brillault ordered a book titled “Tango has two papas and why not?” removed from the children’s section.
The mayor, who has been described as a ferocious opponent of gay marriage, told AFP he ordered the removal after he was approached by parents concerned about the book’s message.
“I questioned the pertinence of certain books that some parents would like to see directly available,” Brillaut said. “So I decided the thing to do was to put them on a shelf…to which children don’t have access.”
The "extremist" campaign by Printemps Français has angered members of France's government with Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti the most outspoken so far.
"They put pressure on the workers, they demand a justification for the library’s book acquisition policy and they search the shelves with a particular obsession with the children’s section,” Filippetti said in a statement.
The minister also voiced her full support for the independence of public libraries.
“France does not tolerate censorship in these beacons of the founding ideals of the republic,” she said. “I reaffirm my absolute support for library personnel and local elected officials who have to deal with this aggression," she said.
The battle for libraries is just the latest campaign linked to France's traditional conservative groups, who have been highly active in recent weeks. As part of a hoax last month, writer Farida Belghoul called for parents to pull their children out of classes after she erroneously claimed schools were to teach gender theory and masturbation classes to young pupils.
The true target of her ire was “ABCD of equality in school”, which has nothing to do with gender theory but will be trialed in September and is simply aimed at teaching equality and respect between boys and girls from a young age.
Earlier this month over 100,000 conservative French protesters marched through Paris and Lyon accusing the government of having "family-phobia" for legalizing gay marriage and other planned policies they say will harm traditional families.