Mass GOP candidate questioned by cop about book she calls kiddie porn
Rayla Campbell, the Republican candidate for Massachusetts secretary of the commonwealth, found herself in an awkward position at a Back the Blue rally on August 15—she had to explain to one of the police officers she came to support that she was not in possession of child pornography.
During her campaign for the state’s third-highest executive office, Campbell has called Gender Queer, an award-winning comic book memoir that can be found in libraries throughout Massachusetts, “child porn.” She has made a habit of showing off images from the book, which she claims is part of a vast effort by librarians and teachers to groom children for sexual abuse and trafficking. But at the rally in Plymouth, her schtick got a reaction she probably didn’t expect.
“A anonymous party reported that Rayla Campbell was showing a book containing child pornography,” said Kevin Manuel, operations captain for the Plymouth Police Department. “The officer went and spoke to her, and she showed the book that she had, … and the officer viewed the book, and it did not contain any child pornography in it.”
At the Somerset Street rally, a group of counterprotesters arrived to demonstrate against Campbell and the Back the Blue group.
“Rayla Campbell has been whipping up her followers into a hate filled-frenzy based on lies because that is all she has to offer,” said Rita Fiorillo, one of the counterprotesters. “[She] shouldn’t be welcomed anywhere.”
Fiorillo said Campbell was showing images from a library copy of Gender Queer at the rally.
“Rayla said that the book depicted children doing sex acts on each other and that it has been read by drag queens at drag queen story hour,” Fiorillo said, referring to events at which drag queens read picture books to children.
“I knew she was hateful,” said Anna, another counterprotester who asked that a pseudonym be used due to fear of retaliation. “We can’t have people like that in our government. We just can’t. And I wouldn’t have felt right if I didn’t do my part to try and keep her from getting that position.”
Anna said she was approached by Campell, who was holding a copy of the book.
“I hadn’t spoken a word to her. Nothing,” Anna said. “And she shoved this book in my face and put this picture right in my face. And she’s pointing. She’s saying, You see what your tax dollars are going towards? You really want your tax dollars paying for our children to see this obscenity?”
Anna continued: “[Campell was] just pointing at this one particular drawing … [that] was cartoony in nature, but it looked to me like a child giving another child oral sex.”
The illustrations actually show two consenting adults; one is performing simulated oral sex on a strap-on dildo worn by the other.
“I had no context,” Anna said. “I’ve never heard of this book. … She’s going around shoving this picture in people’s faces, and there’s a couple of kids here.”
Anna’s fiancé Benjamin (also a pseudonym) said that Campbell had previously referred to the book as child pornography and suggested they report her to the police.
Anna spoke with police officer Kevin Ciavarra about what she saw.
“I said that to me it looks like the picture she was showing me was like a cartoon drawing of one child about to give oral sex to another child,” Anna said. “And I said she herself described this stuff as ‘pornographic’ and ‘obscene.’ … I did not say ‘child porn.’”
A five-minute video posted on Reddit shows Campbell wearing a Thin Blue Line dress and holding a banner while Ciavarra, notepad in hand, speaks with her. The two walk toward a vehicle in a parking lot and the trunk opens, although it’s not clear who opens it. The two speak while Ciavarra takes notes. Campbell hands Ciavarra a copy of Gender Queer. The officer takes more notes then begins looking through the book. He is still looking as the video ends.
In Ciavarra’s incident report, he wrote: “The suspected person, Ms. Rayla Campbell, had a book from the Brockton Public Library which displayed one person performing oral sex on another. While inspecting the book ‘Gender Queer’ on the first page I observed the main character involved in the act state ‘Back when I was 24’. This concluded the character in the book was not a minor. It is worthy to note the book was illustrated in a cartoon / comic fashion. All parties were advised my [sic] findings, no further services requested.”
The Brockton Public Library previously had one copy of Gender Queer. The book was checked out and due back on June 15 but was flagged as lost on July 30, according to a librarian. The library shelved the book in the adult nonfiction section, which is on a different floor than the children’s section.
Paul Engle, the library director, was unavailable for comment in time for publication.
A TikTok user with the account @marcusjohn_ posted a 20-second video of Campbell speaking with Ciavarra, writing in a caption that the police were searching her car. However, the owner of the account said he was not sure if the police actually searched the vehicle.
Manuel, the police captain, said that Campbell was not detained and that her vehicle was not searched.
After speaking with the officer, Campbell left for a fundraising event at Cabby Shack. The counterprotesters—including Anna and Benjamin—also headed to the restaurant so they could continue demonstrating outside.
In a campaign email, Campbell called the rally and fundraiser “a HUGE success.” She did not mention speaking with the police officer about Gender Queer. However, she did complain about the counterprotesters.
“We witnessed left-wing protesters not only at the rally, but also at my kickoff event. They called me names like ‘Nazi’ and said I am a racist,” she wrote. “It’s incredible that these people live on the same planet as you and me. When they resort to this kind of gutter rhetoric, you know they’re in trouble.”
Campbell did not respond to an email asking if she told the police officer that the book was not actually child pornography, if she actually believes the book is child pornography, and why she carries it around if she believes it is child pornography.
On Saturday, Campbell wrote in a Facebook post that state law makes it a crime to distribute obscene material. She then posted images from Gender Queer that she said are “not appropriate for minors” and that “some viewers may find … obscene.”
She did not respond to an email asking why she posted the images if she believes they are obscene and illegal to distribute.
She also did not respond to an email asking if she intends to return the book to the library.
Campbell—a Donald Trump supporter and far-right provocateur—is part of a nationwide reactionary movement resisting the growing acceptance of LGBTQ people by spreading false claims that they are grooming children for sexual abuse.
She has made attacking public schools and local libraries the focus of her campaign—even though the secretary of the commonwealth has no control over either. She hosts a weekly talk show on WSMN, a radio station in New Hampshire, and regularly makes false, inflammatory claims about sexual education and library books. Her attacks on schools and libraries are motivated by her deep animosity toward transgender and nonbinary people, who she has referred to as “freaks” and “weirdos” and said “should not be anywhere near kids.”
I previously reported on Campbell’s obsession with Gender Queer, including her false accusations that Massachusetts libraries are shelving the book in the children’s section.
Gender Queer was written and illustrated by Maia Kobabe, an artist from California. The book, first published in 2019, is about how Kobabe came to identify as nonbinary and asexual. Speaking to NBC News in December, Kobabe said: “I’ve been receiving almost weekly, and sometimes more than weekly, emails from readers thanking me for writing it, telling me how much it meant to them, saying it helped them understand themselves or that they gave it to a parent or a child or a friend or a partner, and that it helped their loved one understand them more, and that it opened up conversations they had not previously been able to have.”
Gender Queer was the most challenged book of 2021 due to its queer themes and sexual content, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. The 240-page book has a few pages that talk about sex, including four pages with mild sexual imagery. The sexual content is on par with many of the works of classic literature taught in high school English classes throughout the country.
I verified that several libraries Campbell mentioned by name did not keep the book in the children’s section, and all but one did not even keep it on the same floor. I could not find any examples of the book being shelved in a children’s section after searching the catalogs for all of the library networks listed on the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners’ website.
It’s not clear if Campbell has ever read the book.
“I didn’t read the whole thing,” she said on her June 2 radio show. “I just happened to flip through and see what was going on.”
She did not respond to an email asking if she has read the book since then.
On June 7, Campbell showed up at several libraries to record Facebook Live videos of herself complaining about the book. In a video shot at the Thayer Public Library in Braintree, she says she found the book in the teen room. Still, she complains that children might see it. (She also mentions that the children’s section is on a different floor.)
“This book depicts sex. Porn. Child porn,” Campbell says in the video. “This is happening. This is illegal behavior. These children aren’t even old enough to consent, but it’s telling them to perform all sorts of acts.” She adds: “We’re going to be exposing everything, protecting you, giving you the rights that you were given by God. … And we’re also going to make sure that this rubbish is removed from our classrooms, from our libraries. It’s disgusting, and all these people should be held accountable.”
Despite Campbell’s claims about Gender Queer being debunked, she continues to make them. In an August 6 Facebook post, she wrote that the book is “listed as being in the children’s section” of Massachusetts libraries, although she did not name any specific libraries. She also wrote that the book “suggests little girls” perform “perverted sex acts … on each other.”
On June 25, Campbell showed up with a small group at a Pride Month event outside the Holbrook Public Library and livestreamed as she attempted to disrupt a drag queen story hour by yelling and demanding to know if the performer had been CORI checked and if tax dollars had been spent on the event. Organizers called police, who told Campbell that she was causing a disturbance and convinced her to leave.
After the event, Campbell made Facebook posts falsely accusing the performer of having children sit on his lap and reading Gender Queer to them.
In a July 25 Facebook post, Campbell linked to an article about members of the neo-Nazi group NSC-13 marching in Boston outside a building that hosted a drag queen story hour and voiced her support. Her post reads: “Some things are worth protesting no? Let me know where these drag queen story times are folks. I’ll show up and see what they say then. Are you going to arrest me? For what?”
“I’d like to see you try new DA guy,” she wrote, referring to interim Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden, whose office launched a civil rights investigation of the neo-Nazi activity. “I’ll march right to wherever it is. Right down Commonwealth Ave jack.”
Campbell is the sole Republican running for secretary of the commonwealth, and she was endorsed by the Mass GOP at its convention in May. During her convention remarks, she claimed that public school teachers are “telling your five-year-old that he can go and suck another five-year-old’s dick.” The party later sent out a fundraising email that said Campbell “brought down the house with a rousing speech.”
Campbell will face one of two Democrats in the general election: the incumbent, William F. Galvin, who is seeking an eighth term, or his primary challenger, Boston NAACP president Tanisha Sullivan.
Sullivan, in a recent interview, declined to comment on Campbell.
“I’m focused on the primary right now,” Sullivan said.
This article is syndicated by the MassWire news service of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. If you want to see more reporting like this, make a contribution at givetobinj.org.
Andrew Quemere is the author of the Mass Dump, a newsletter about public records. Follow him on Twitter @andrewqmr.
Andrew Quemere has been making public records requests in Massachusetts for more than a decade. He writes The Mass. Dump Dispatch, a newsletter about public records. Subscribe to read about the latest developments in government transparency. Follow him on Twitter @andrewqmr.