Creep of the Week

Creep: Book Banners

Pop quiz time!

If you had a dollar for every time a book was banned during the 2023-2024 school year, you would have:

$4

$40

$400

$4,000

The answer is $4,000, though it could also be “all of the above” because the 2023-2024 school year isn’t over yet, and right-wing extremists who want to “protect” children from the scourge of critical thinking and compassion for others that reading books often provokes are not slowing down.

As The Advocate reports, “The bans, sweeping across 42 states, have disproportionately targeted books dealing with sexual violence, LGBTQ+ themes, and racial issues.”

Because everyone knows if you just ignore problems like sexual violence and racism, they’ll just go away. And the folks wanting to ban these books also see the existence of LGBTQ+ people as a problem of the same magnitude.

I often wonder how my life would be different if there were books about LGBTQ+ people and history or books with LGBTQ+ characters available at my school’s library. While I doubt I would have been brave enough to check them out, just knowing they were there would have been huge. When I was in middle school, for example, I didn’t even know that such books existed anywhere on this earth. This was way pre-internet. I didn’t know that I was gay until ninth or 10th grade, but wow, would I probably have been spared a lot of pain and confusion if I had examples of queer themes and characters that reflected my life in any way. I did not. What I did have were “Sweet Valley Twins” and later, “Sweet Valley High” books. Those did not help.

So, yeah, today’s book bans make me really angry. Especially since the books being banned are the ones that young LGBTQ+ people might get a glimmer of hope from. The extremist right believes that if you make being LGBTQ+ too painful, then young people will simply reject that “lifestyle” and choose to be straight. But that’s not how it works.

When LGBTQ+ kids are miserable, it doesn’t make them any less queer. It does, however, make it harder to be healthy mentally and physically. You can’t shame the gay away or pray the gay away or anything like that. You can, however, shame and pray the joy out of someone’s life. And that’s what these ghouls want to do.

According to PEN America, “Books are under profound attack in the United States. They are disappearing from library shelves, being challenged in droves, being decreed off limits by school boards, legislators, and prison authorities. And everywhere, it is the books that have long fought for a place on the shelf that are being targeted. Books by authors of color, by LGBTQ+ authors, by women. Books about racism, sexuality, gender, history. PEN America pushes back against the banning of books and the intolerance, exclusion, and censorship that undergird it.”

In fact, PEN America is challenging book bans in the state of Florida: “PEN America, Penguin Random House, and a diverse group of authors have joined with parents and students from Escambia County, Florida, to file a federal lawsuit challenging removals and restrictions of books from school libraries that violate their rights to free speech and equal protection under the law.”

Just in case you needed another example of why the appointments and elections of judges matter so much.

Also important? The people who work at your local libraries and schools. According to The Advocate, “At the forefront of the resistance [to book bans] are librarians and educators who have taken creative steps to ensure that banned books remain accessible. Some have organized underground libraries, while others have incorporated discussions about censorship into their curriculums, using the bans as teachable moments to discuss broader issues of rights and freedoms.”

This is great, and the librarians and educators who are doing this are awesome, but it’s also awful because they shouldn’t have to.

It’s also worth noting that these book bans are happening at the demand of a small minority. The majority of parents don’t support these bans. But this very vocal minority has more power than they should, and they deem anything with LGBTQ+ characters or themes as “pornography,” which is very effective messaging. If you ask most parents, “Should there be pornography in your child’s school library?” they are going to say no. But if you ask parents, “Should a small group of extremist community members be able to dictate what your school can have in their library?” Most parents aren’t going to go for that, either.

“The national dialogue around book bans has also pulled in authors and publishers, many of whom have been vocal in their opposition,” The Advocate reports.

According to author Abdi Nazemian, “I’ve been told the punishment for educating young adults about queer history through storytelling should be ‘a millstone and neck and a deep sea.’”

Needless to say, the people behind the book bans are the villains of this story.

For more information on book bans, visit PEN America is tracking bans across the country. Check out their extensive list here: pen.org/2023-banned-book-list.

D’Anne Witkowski is a writer living in Michigan with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBTQ+ politics for nearly two decades. Follow her on Twitter @MamaDWitkowski.

(Photo courtesy of San Jose Public Library via Flickr | CC-BY-SA 2.0/The Daily Montanan)

DAnne Witkowski

D'Anne Witkowski is a poet, writer and comedian living with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBT politics for over a decade. Follow her on Twitter @MamaDWitkowski.

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