The LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD has joined with more than 600 writers, artists, educational organizations, and other racial justice and LGBTQ advocates to denounce efforts to ban books containing LGBTQ-related content or books touching on issues of race and racism.
The National Coalition Against Censorship, an alliance comprised of 57 nonprofit literary, artistic, and educational organizations, has been responding to attempts by parents, school districts, and conservative interest groups in dozens of states to censor or remove books they find objectionable from school or public libraries.
Opponents of the targeted books — often those dealing with LGBTQ issues or racially-tinged subject matter — have threatened library and school personnel with violence, started recalls against school board members, filed complaints to have the books removed for being age-inappropriate, and even, in some cases, called on local police to pursue criminal charges against teachers and librarians who either refuse or don’t act swiftly enough to remove the books from library shelves. In Virginia’s Spotsylvania County, two school board members even suggested that books that have been deemed “sexually explicit” by critics should be burned.
The coalition issued a statement warning of the dangers of censoring books, with GLAAD and the other 600+ organizations signing onto the statement to show their support.
“In communities across the country, an organized political attack on books in schools threatens the education of America’s children. These ongoing attempts to purge schools of books represent a partisan political battle fought in school board meetings and state legislatures,” the statement reads.
“Nearly all communities have developed policies for both handling book challenges and allowing parents to influence their own child’s reading, but they must do so within the guideposts set forth by the Supreme Court, without infringing on the rights of other students,” the statement continues. “The law clearly prohibits the kind of activities we are seeing today: censoring school libraries, removing books — and entire reading lists — based on disagreement with viewpoint and without any review of their educational or literary merit….
“Libraries offer students the opportunity to encounter books and other material that they might otherwise never see and the freedom to make their own choices about what to read. Denying young people this freedom to explore — often on the basis of a single controversial passage cited out of context — will limit not only what they can learn but who they can become,” the statement continues.
“Books help students connect with characters whose stories reflect their own lives. They also widen their view of a changing world that embraces diversity and multiculturalism. But there is always resistance to change. So it is not surprising that most of the books that are being attacked address concerns of groups previously underrepresented in libraries or school curriculums: books about lived experiences of racism or of growing up LGBTQIA and experiencing bias, discrimination, hate, and even violence.
“The First Amendment guarantees that no individual, group of individuals, legislator, community member, or even school board member can dictate what public school students are allowed to read based on their own personal beliefs or political viewpoint, the statement concludes. “It is freedom of expression that ensures that we can meet the challenges of a changing world. That freedom is critical for the student who will lead America in the years ahead. We must fight to defend it.”
Related: Texas governor rails against controversial LGBTQ books, will push to ban “pornography” from school libraries
The National Coalition Against Censorship’s public statement drops at a time when there are an ever-increasing number of challenged books. According to the American Library Association, there have been at least 155 challenges of various titles since June.
In Texas, State Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) has crafted a list of 850 different books he believes are controversial, immoral, or have the potential to cause “discomfort” among readers exposed to certain ideas or topics. Upon review, two-thirds of the titles flagged by Krause were LGBTQ-related. The state has also passed legislation to ban discussions about race, conscious and unconscious bias, privilege, discrimination, oppression, and gender-related issues, as have eight other states.
To support the coalition’s efforts, GLAAD is coordinating a social media campaign #BooksNotBans, which seeks to call attention to the rise of censorship in public schools and libraries. In a news release, GLAAD noted that many of those seeking to ban certain books have long histories of advocating against LGBTQ rights or racial equality, with some of the pro-censorship organizations even being funded by national conservative groups and prominent political donors.
“Every LGBTQ young person needs to see themselves in stories about their lives, to let them know they belong just as they are,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement. “Every American needs stories about LGBTQ people, Black people, queer people of color and all marginalized groups to better understand each other’s experiences.
“Books nurture more compassionate human beings and a more successful society, where all are welcome to participate,” added Ellis. “School boards and libraries must follow established protocol to ensure access to books, and to represent and serve LGBTQ youth. All leaders must speak up against hostile rhetoric and behavior targeting vulnerable young people and books about their lives, and prioritize protecting them and safe spaces for all to learn.”
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