A new analysis by The Washington Post reveals that books about LGBTQ people are the main target of a historic wave of censorship attempts in schools across the nation. The analysis, based on data from PEN America, a free-speech organization, found that about one-third of the 1,586 books banned from schools nationwide have LGBTQ themes and characters.
The analysis also shows that a large percentage of the challenges come from a small number of hyperactive adults, some of whom are affiliated with conservative groups. People who filed 10 or more challenges accounted for 6% of all book challengers, and had filed 60% of all book challenges. One man even filed 92 book challenges.
The most common reason cited for removing LGBTQ books is a stated wish to shield children from sexual content. However, some challengers also object to any representation of queer lives and stories in a nonsexual way. For example, one parent in Virginia complained about “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, a graphic memoir about being nonbinary and asexual, saying that it “promotes transgenderism” and “encourages children to question their gender.”
Experts warn that banning LGBTQ books can harm the mental health and well-being of queer youth, who need access to diverse and inclusive literature. Amy Egbert, an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut who studies youth mental health, said: “Any time a certain identity is stigmatized, that tends to lead to more discrimination, more bullying, increased mental health challenges. Everything we know suggests this is very harmful to LGBTQ kids.”
Some authors whose books have been banned or challenged have spoken out against the censorship efforts. George M. Johnson, whose young adult memoir “All Boys Aren’t Blue” was reported to the police by a Florida school board member, said: “I wrote this book for Black queer kids who don’t see themselves in literature. To have it taken away from them is an act of violence.”
Adam Rapp, whose novel “33 Snowfish” was suggested to be burned by a Virginia school board member because it depicts gay sex between a 10-year-old boy and an older man as part of a story about child abuse and neglect, said: “I think it’s important for young people to read about difficult things. I think it’s important for them to be exposed to art that challenges them and makes them think and feel.”
The censorship attempts have sparked resistance from some librarians, teachers and students, who have organized protests, petitions and read-ins to defend their right to read. PEN America has also launched a campaign called #BannedBooksWeek to raise awareness and support for the issue.
The American Library Association, which tracks book challenges and bans, has reported an increase in the percentage of LGBTQ books among the most challenged titles in recent years. From 2000-2010, challenges against LGBTQ books only accounted for less than 1-3%. In 2018, that percentage increased to 16%, 20% in 2020, and 45.5% in 2022.
Some of the most frequent LGBTQ titles to be banned or challenged include “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, “Melissa” by Alex Gino (formerly published as “George”), “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel and “Better Nate Than Ever” by Tim Federle.
– Book challenges are fueled by parents’ objections to LGBTQ themes, The Washington Post, May 23, 2023
– 25 LGBTQ+ Books That Are Banned In Schools in 2022, Advocate.com, September 24, 2022
– Books including ‘Gender Queer’ being pulled from schools, sparking controversy, ABC News, November 13, 2021
– From book bans to ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, LGBTQ kids feel ‘erased’ in the classroom, NBC News, February 20, 2022