Why is there such energy being poured into making sure books with LGBTQ themes or LGBTQ authors are off the shelves of public libraries and school libraries? It seems that the number of attempts to censor books in K-12 schools, universities and public libraries has risen.
Last year a Long Island library decided to tear down Pride displays and remove books from children’s sections. As soon as this was made public, there was outrage in the community. It was quickly derided by LGBTQ activists and politicians.
President and CEO of the New York LGBT Network Dr. David Kilmnick, called the ban an act of hate.
“The actions by the Smithtown library board was nothing more than hate. There is no reason, and it doesn’t matter that it’s just pride month Pride Month it just adds insult to injury, that they banned these displays, but to remove what is a symbol of love what is a symbol of our different families? What is a symbol of pride, and what is a symbol that will save lives is really, really cruel,” Kilmnick said.
The push to block gay pride books targeted for kids from libraries is happening nationwide. Conservative group Catholic Vote is calling on parents to “hide the pride” by checking out all LGBTQ books — essentially emptying all Pride displays from libraries.
The Smithtown Library Board of Trustees reversed its decision to ban Pride displays and books in the children’s section of their library! This happened because YOU spoke up and spoke out! It is a reason to celebrate and demonstrates what our collective power can do. But it is also a wakeup call that the culture wars targeting LGBTQ youth are very much here in our backyard”.
“The reversal overall is good because it gets those books and displays back into the libraries,” LGBTQ Network vice president Robert Vitelli told local media after the library board reversed itself. “The commentary that went along with the votes shows there’s still a lot that needs to be done.”
After reviewing the Southern Tier Library Systems website, they promote the following:
We, as library leaders, recognize that systemic racism and discrimination exist in our communities. We reject oppression in all forms, and we acknowledge the important role that libraries have as advocates and spaces of solace.
The Southern Tier Library System, in partnership with our region’s member libraries, has upheld the Library Bill of Rights and Core Values of Librarianship since the inception of our library system in 1958. Both documents serve as the foundation of our practice and its implementation.
Our library system recognizes that members of our communities have endured discriminatory treatment because of their race, ethnicity, age, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, or socioeconomic status.
Moreover, ongoing, and historic tragedies involving race and discrimination demonstrate that libraries share a social and civic responsibility to unite our communities around a purpose of ending widespread violence and racism towards Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Color.
We know that libraries are integral to the well-being of our communities, and we share the responsibility to speak up in the face of injustice. Libraries must be actively antiracist in all communities, so we can continually evolve and strive toward a future that is safe and equitable for all.
To that end, we pledge our energy and creativity in our continued efforts to build genuine racial and social justice throughout our communities.
A number of states, including Texas, Florida, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania have a ban or limit the distribution of books with LGBTQ themes or LGBTQ authors. PEN America, a literary and free expression organization, identified in a report at least 50 groups at the national, state or local level that have advocated for book bans in recent months. More districts, more states and more students are losing access to literature.
According to the chart below provided by PEN America, New York State is one of 7 states that have 11-25 bans on books. Among the 1,648 unique banned book titles in the Index, 674 banned book titles (41 percent) explicitly address LGBTQ themes or have protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQ (this includes a specific subset of titles for transgender characters or stories—145 titles, or 9 percent).
We must be aware that just because this “isn’t Texas” or it “isn’t happening here in the Southern Tier”, it still can.
Many of these efforts seek to pull books with LGBTQ characters or themes like Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer”, George M. Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue”, and Justin Richardson’s and Peter Parnell’s “And Tango Makes Three” are part of a broader, conservative-led movement to chisel away at the rights and status of LGBTQ Americans.
School districts across the country have faced pressure from conservative activists and groups in recent years over books and learning materials that discuss race and gender identity. In New York there are 13 chapters of a conservative group Moms for Liberty where the organization that claims to advocate for parental rights in schools. The organization has campaigned against COVID-19 restrictions in schools, including mask and vaccine mandates, and against school curriculums that mention LGBTQ rights, race, critical race theory, and discrimination, and multiple chapters have also campaigned to ban from school libraries books that address gender and sexuality issues.
Even as social morals relaxed in the 20th century, school libraries remained sites of contentious battles about what kind of information should be available to children in an age of social progress and the modernization of American society. Parents and administrators struggle over both fiction and nonfiction during school board and library commission meetings.
Governor Hochul stated, “For many LGBTQ kids, libraries are a place of refuge and information where they can be welcomed and affirmed for who they are,” she said. New York “will not tolerate a ‘Don’t Say Gay’ philosophy,” the governor added, referring to a newly signed Florida law banning schools to discuss LGBTQ issues with younger kids.
In Washington D.C, Dan Adams joined his son’s class for a reading of Kyle Lukoff’s book “When Aidan Became A Brother”. The book, which chronicles a young trans boy growing into his identity as he becomes an older brother, is one of the many books depicting LGBTQ lives or discussing racial injustice that have been pulled from library shelves in the last few years.
“We love reading stories, just like this one, with our family, and we think it’s important that a first grader in 2023 is exposed to beautiful ways of living and being whole and being loved. We want that for our kid,” Adams said. “I am disappointed in efforts to ban these kinds of stories, because our kids are who they are. And LGBTQ kids know who they are.” It’s important for kids to see themselves reflected in books and for kids to see stories of other kids that are not their own experience so they can learn about what it’s like.
Tony Marx, president of the New York Public Library has been quoted as saying “The recent instances of both attempted and successful book banning —primarily on titles that explore race, LGBTQ+ issues, religion, and history — are extremely disturbing and amount to an all-out attack on the very foundation of our democracy…Knowledge is power; ignorance is dangerous, breeding hate and division … Since their inception, public libraries have worked to combat these forces simply by making all perspectives and ideas accessible to all”.
Book bans internalize a sense of shame and isolation within young LGBTQ people, especially as many struggles to find self-acceptance and self-love. It’s important for everyone to be aware of what bills are being proposed in their state and at their school boards. Students need to be aware of their rights to protest book bans, either through assembling, writing to their legislators, or organizing rallies or read ins. As a student we can’t fight book challenges alone. We must do this as a community.