Book burnings evoke thoughts of Europe nearly a century ago, but they’re being suggested here in the U.S. this year under a scary climate that is trying to eliminate all LGBTQ+ books from the shelves of public libraries and schools—and not enough people are talking about it or trying to stop it. Many hope to change that with Banned Books Week, which is Sept. 18 to 24, 2022.
In October 2021, Texas State Rep. Matt Krause created a list of 850 books he wanted pulled from Texas schools. About two-thirds of those books were on LGBTQ+ topics or about LGBTQ+ characters. He said these books could cause “discomfort” for students—and we all know he doesn’t mean the LGBTQ+ students. This theme of pulling books in the name of “parents’ rights” or to “protect children” implies that the parents and children are straight and cisgender and that the ones who are not—the ones who would benefit most from the representation in the books—don’t matter.
In the 11 months since that list made national news, a wave of hyper-local challenges and bans on LGBTQ+-related books have been made in school districts and at public libraries around the U.S. The American Library Association (ALA) reports a 60% increase in book challenges from September 2020 to September 2021. ALA director Deborah Caldwell-Stone told Tagg Magazine’s assistant editor Sarah Prager that “she’s never seen this volume of book challenges in her 20 years at the ALA.”
Prager’s own books have been banned. Young adult book Queer, There, and Everywhere and middle-grade book Rainbow Revolutionaries both share biographies of LGBTQ+ historical figures in age-appropriate ways for youth but have received multiple challenges and bans from school districts in different states over the last year. “I wasn’t aware of any at all until this current wave of attacks,” Prager says. “Now I’m alerted of another one every month.”
This trend is dangerous, even life-threatening. Living in a community accepting of LGBTQ+ people, attending a school accepting and affirming LGBTQ+ students, and having the presence of trusted and caring adults all reduce an LGBTQ+ young person’s risk of suicide, according to recent research by The Trevor Project. Access to information about and representation of their own community is important for identity development and mental health. Without being able to access these books at a public library or at school, youth likely have nowhere else to find them. Are they going to buy them with their own money or ask their parents to buy them? Reading them for free at the library is a lifeline being taken from them when the only copy that was available is ripped from the shelf into quarantine for review and then deemed inappropriate by straight, cisgender adults for youth to ever see.
The wave hasn’t crested but the headlines have died down. During Banned Book Week, we must call attention to what is happening—a terrifying attack on queer people’s inclusion and lives in this country. Share this article and tweet using #BannedBookWeek to raise awareness and get involved at the local level. Check with your library and school district to see if there have been any books removed or attempted to be removed. Fight back and stay aware of being ready if that happens close to home. We need to defend our youth so they have an opportunity to read the books we wish we could have read when we were younger.
Eboné F. Bell is the founder and publisher of Tagg Magazine, a print publication and website for everything lesbian, queer, and under the rainbow.