2021 has seen a dramatic rise in attempts to ban books from libraries, and these challenges universally echo one common refrain, according to the American Library Association.
“It’s a volume of challenges I’ve never seen in my time at the ALA – the last 20 years. We’ve never had a time when we’ve gotten four or five reports a day for days on end, sometimes as many as eight in a day,” says ALA director Deborah Caldwell-Stone.
“Social media is amplifying local challenges and they’re going viral, but we’ve also been observing a number of organisations activating local members to go to school board meetings and challenge books. We’re seeing what appears to be a campaign to remove books, particularly books dealing with LGBTQIA themes and books dealing with racism.”
Books that discuss topics such as racism have notably been the subject of book bans across the United States.
During the Virginia gubernatorial race, a Virginia GOP ad supporting candidate Glenn Youngkin featured a mom talking about wanting to ban Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, because reading it gave her high-school AP student son nightmares. The late Nobel Laureate has seen her award-winning novel Beloved banned from libraries over its explicit content—that explicit content dealing with the atrocities of slavery.
Likewise, LGBTQ books have been the subject of book bans in recent months.
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, the acclaimed graphic memoir turned into a Tony Award-winning play about her father’s sexuality and her own, was pulled from shelves in North Kansas over its LGBTQ themes.
In Florida, a school board member filed a police report over the book All Boys Aren’t Blue, George C. Johnson’s memoir that was awarded an Amazon Book of the Year, a New York Library Best Book of 2020, a Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2020, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2020, and a recommended read by both Buzzfeed and Teen Vogue.
In the report, she cited her concern for the children, espousing that as the reason why she felt the critically-acclaimed memoir-manifesto should be investigated as a crime.
Vin Thaker, a conservative Republican running for the school board in Waukee, Iowa made news when he said he wants libraries to out kids who check out LGBTQ books, while correspondingly wanting the person who ordered the book to stand trial in front of the board.
In Texas earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) wrote to the education agency commissioner asking to be notified of any “instance of pornography being provided to minors under the age of 18 for prosecution to the fullest extent of the law,” insinuating anything containing LGBTQ themes is pornographic in nature. Abbott then cited Maia Kobabe’s memoir Gender Queer, detailing Maia’s road of discovering themselves as nonbinary and asexual. There have been multiple attempts to ban the award-winning graphic novel in several states.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) also urged South Carolina’s department of education to remove Maia Kobabe’s book from library shelves, calling it “obscene and pornographic.”
Staying in the Lone Star State, Texas Rep. Matt Krause (R) drew up a list of 850 books on subjects ranging from racism to sexuality that could “make students feel discomfort,” and is demanding that school districts across the state report whether any are in their classrooms or libraries.
According to NBC News, Krause appended the book list that includes well-known titles like the Pulitzer Prize-winning William Styron novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner and best-sellers that were turned into movies or television series, such as John Irving’s The Cider House Rules, Alan Moore’s dystopian V For Vendetta, and the graphic novel version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
Looking at the list, the books also contain many books by LGBTQ authors about LGBTQ themes, such as Kobabe’s Gender Queer.
Is there a pattern or deeper plot behind this push to ban LGBTQ books?
There is if you look at the organizations behind the parents’ rights groups, along with the statements of the people involved in this book-banning push.
Jill Woolbright, the Florida school board member trying to ban Johnson’s All Boys are Blue, said that being on the school board was her “calling” while appearing on a radio show in May.
“Who I am is a child of God and it influences everything I say and do,” she said, “because that’s what it means to be a child of God. I’ll just put it out there, yes I am a Christian, and people knew that going in, and it affects my decisions.”
Two Spotsylvania, Virginia school board members, Rabih Abuismail and Kirk Twigg, advocated for books to not only be removed but also burned.
They both cited their Christian beliefs as their underpinning reasons behind wanting to ban and burn books.
“I think we should throw those books in a fire,” Abuisamail said. “I guess we live in a world now that our public schools would rather have kids read about gay pornography than Christ.”
Twigg said he wants to “see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff.”
Caldwell-Stone says that these are all coordinated by conservative organizations, such as the Heritage Foundation, which she said were driving the attempts to censor materials dealing with racism and Black American history, as well as materials they deem to be inappropriate for minors, which seems to encompass the entire canon of books dealing with LGBTQIA themes.
“We’re seeing a disregard for policy and a kind of a moral panic over a number of novels and graphic novels that are in school libraries that are intended for adolescents to access and read, without regard for the agency or first amendment rights of the young adults involved, or the choices of parents who may make different choices about what books they would like students to be able to read and access in libraries,” said Caldwell-Stone. “We’re seeing censorship to impose particular agendas, representing particular political or religious beliefs. It’s really disheartening.”
Moral panic and conservatives go hand-in-hand, especially with regards to the Heritage Foundation.
Not only did they hire Mike Pence after his departure from the White House (the same Mike Pence who saw one of the largest HIV outbreaks the state while governor of Indiana), but the Heritage Foundation has been a pipeline for the religious right to espouse fears of a “gay agenda.”
Take for instance, this commentary released in February 2021, praising the group Promise to America’s Children.
Promise to America’s Children is actually a conglomeration of other anti-LGBTQ groups, such as the Heritage Foundation, Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council, and the Family Policy Alliance, the last two created by Focus on the Family founder, James Dobson, for political and lobbying purposes.
Each of the aforementioned groups have been the biggest fear-mongers over the dubious “gay agenda.” Groups like the Heritage Foundation may not say it in words, but the fact they stand with virulent hate groups that see LGBTQ people in a phantasmagoric fashion leads credence to the idea of complicity by association, signifying they stand with the book-banning brigade. They’ve even gotten upset over positive messages to LGBTQ youth, who suffer through higher rates of bullying compared to their straight peers.
Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, said, “The videos are titled ‘It Gets Better.’ They are aimed at persuading kids that although they’ll face struggles and perhaps bullying for ‘coming out’ as homosexual (or transgendered or some other perversion), life will get better. …It’s disgusting. And it’s part of a concerted effort to persuade kids that homosexuality is okay and actually to recruit them into that lifestyle.”
In March of 2008, former FRC staffer Peter Sprigg during a segment on MSNBC said he would rather export gays than allow them to immigrate into America. Although he did apologize for the statement, Sprigg later told then MSNBC host Chris Matthews, “I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions on homosexual behavior.”
Focus on the Family once said the same thing about anti-bullying efforts—espousing their false belief anti-bullying is just another way to “promote homosexuality to kids.”
“What parents need to be aware of is there are activist groups who want to promote homosexuality to kids because they realize if they can capture hearts and minds of our children at the earliest ages they will have for all practical purposes won the clash of values that we are currently experiencing,” Candi Cushman, education analyst for Focus on the Family, said on recently launched website TrueTolerance.org.
“They’ve started introducing homosexuality lessons, sometimes even sexually graphic information under the cover of tolerance or so-called safe school initiatives or even anti-bullying programs,” she said.
Note the point in the quote that says, “they will have for all practical purposes won the clash of values.”
Therein lies the anti-LGBTQ push in schools— the fear of public acceptance of LGBTQ people.
What Dobson, Perkins, the Heritage Foundation, and any other conservative Christian activist or group feel is that LGBTQ people should not gain any rights, sympathy, or mainstream affinity, because they fear that others will learn to love and accept all individuals regardless of sexuality, in the process rejecting antiquated, conservative beliefs about LGBTQ people. Conservatives worry about LGBTQ people gaining recognition, because their vista holds that if LGBTQ people are mainstreamed, then they won’t have the same ability to fear-monger and score political points. They worry their sphere of influence will play a reduced role.
The issue of LGBTQ books is not an issue of “obscene” vs “appropriate”; it’s an issue of evangelicalism vs the world. Evangelicals worry that LGBTQ books will begin to normalize LGBTQ people to youth, and that means that they won’t be able to convince others of their ludicrous ideas about how LGBTQ people are licentious Leviathans out to prey on everyone. This is why it is most crucial that others push back and point truth from error with regards to these book bans. If we want to progress forward as a nation, it is most vital we refuse the dogmatism of those who wish to see marginalized groups be disbarred from visibility.
Conservative Christian groups have been raising Cain over what they feel is a gay agenda for years. A radio host in Colorado once said that Disney’s Frozen was a way to promote bestiality and homosexuality to children.
We often laugh at those that screech about the “homosexual agenda” and call them delusional. However, these groups are in an all-out effort to obtain power and influence in key positions in the country, with fiercely nocuous motives.
While their ideas are comical, let’s remember their ideas are dangerous and malevolent, especially for LGBTQ children that are at highest risk for bullying and violence at school.