By: Ankita Kulkarni
September 14 2023
Social media videos claiming to show Senator Kennedy reading Barack Obama’s words to his gay lover in a hearing. (Source:X/Screenshot)
Senator Kennedy read from the books "All Boys Aren’t Blue" and "Gender Queer" in a Senate hearing, opposing Illinois' new anti-book ban law.
Several states across the U.S., specifically Republican-led states, have been pushing to remove or ban certain books from schools and libraries, especially those with LGBTQIA+ content and "sexually explicit" material. On June 13, 2023, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed a bill into a law prohibiting book bans in its public schools and libraries, as reported by the Associated Press.
On September 12, 2023, Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias testified defending the law before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about Illinois' new law. The hearing was also presided over by Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana.
What's the claim?
Amid this, a video going viral on social media platforms, including X (archive here), shows Senator Kennedy reading out sexually explicit content during a hearing. The post has garnered two million views on the platform and is captioned, "Senator Kennedy reading Barack Obama's words to his gay lover… LOL!! Dropping nukes." Numerous posts on X have shared the same video with a similar narrative (archive here). The claim is also viral on Bitchute (archive here), a platform known for spreading far-right and conspiracy theory content and hate speech.
Screengrab of claims made online. (Source:X/Bitchute/Screenshot)
However, the video is miscaptioned, and the claim is false.
What are the facts?
A reverse image search led us to a longer version of the Senate hearing uploaded on C-SPAN's website dated September 12. At the time stamp 01:47:03, Senator Kennedy begins his talk on opposing the anti-book ban law, as it has been widely termed, stating, "Let's take two books that have been much discussed. The first one is called All Boys Aren't Blue. I will quote from it." He then recites some explicit excerpts from the book about gay sex. Later, he also quotes, "The second is another much-discussed book. I am sure you are familiar with it. It's called Gender Queer. Let me read an excerpt from that."
He makes no mention that former U.S. President Barack Obama wrote these words. A report published by The Independent on the hearing noted that Senator Kennedy read out the wordings from George M. Johnson's book "All Boys Aren't Blue" and Maia Kobabe's "Gender Queer." Barack Obama was not mentioned in the Senate hearing at all.
We also found a YouTube video, including just the clip of Senator Kennedy's speech, uploaded by NTD News, which is a multilingual American television broadcaster, on September 12. The description reads, "At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Book Bans: Examining How Censorship Limits Liberty and Literature" on Sept. 12, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) read out disturbing content from "All Boys Aren't Blue" and "Gender Queer" — which have been listed at the top of Pen America's banned book list — and asked two witnesses if parents should have a say on what books school libraries provide their children with."
The above evidence establishes that Senator Kennedy quoted excerpts from two books that included some sexually explicit content. They are not words written by Barack Obama, as claimed in the viral post.
Moreover, the narrative seen in the viral post is also part of a conspiracy theory that has been standard fare in right-wing circles, which falsely purports that Barack Obama is gay.
The viral video is miscaptioned to falsely claim that Senator Kennedy read "Barack Obama's words to his gay lover" during a Senate hearing. However, Senator Kennedy read out excerpts from two books that have sexually explicit content while arguing against Illinois' new anti-book ban law. They are in no way connected to Barack Obama. Therefore, we have marked the claim as false.