By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.
Of all the “New Right’s” culture wars being waged at the local and state levels, none is more dangerous than their book bans. Enacted under the guise of “parental rights” and “protection of children,” book bans are written with intentionally vague standards and severe penalties for violation to create uncertainty and fear in teachers and librarians who must follow and practice their censorship.
To be sure, not all books or subjects are appropriate for all ages, but well-informed judgement i.e., qualified educators should be determining best practices. Furthermore, historically individual titles have gotten banned; now book bans are by entire subjects – LGBTQ, Black History, racial injustice, feminism, etc. But the real objective of Republicans is to silence, then ultimately erase the people whose history, stories, and literature they are banning in the books – namely LGBTQ and BIPOC Americans.
“We are entitled to our history… I don’t think you can be a people until you have a history.”
– Larry Kramer
Controversies over books and book bans are nothing new; but over the last few years the number of banned books has skyrocketed.
Conservative law makers are not doing it alone. They are getting a lot of help in their efforts to censor books and voices which are not straight white and Christian. There are a growing number of organized groups leading the charge like “Moms for Liberty,” which was recently designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for their extremist views/actions against the LGBTQ community.
From the Pen America website,
“Some of the groups espouse Christian nationalist political views, while many have mission statements oriented toward reforming public schools, in some cases to offer more religious education. In at least a few documented cases (for example, in Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania), the individuals lodging complaints about books did not have children attending public schools when at the time they raised objections.
This evolving censorship movement has grown in size and routinely finds new targets and tactics, homing in on the books encompassed in district book purchases or digital library apps. A parallel but connected movement is also targeting public libraries, with calls to ban books; efforts to intimidate, harass, or fire librarians; and even attempts to suspend or defund entire libraries.”
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What the average American hasn’t quite realized yet, mostly because these book bans (for the moment) are happening elsewhere and not to them yet, is that they are an attack on their freedom. – the freedom to choose what they and their families can read because these hate groups and ultra-conservative legislators are deciding for them. It’s also censorship and denial of LGBTQ and BIPOC people’s First Amendment freedom of expression to tell their stories publicly and available to everyone.
They are banning the plays of Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, and Tony Kushner. Gone is the activism of Bayard Rustin and social philosophy of James Baldwin. Silenced are the voices of Janet Mock, Toni Morrison, and the poetry of Audre Lorde. Now closeted are the stories of Armistead Maupin, Paul Monette, and Randy Shilts.
But, this authoritarian censorship is not going unnoticed. Advocacy groups, government officials, and also the White House have started taking action to stop the surge of book bans. Already they’ve achieved some dramatic results.
Earlier this month, one group in Utah used the state’s book ban decency standards to get the King James Bible banned. #UnintendedConsequences
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A few weeks ago, CBS News reported that the Biden White House is appointing an official to coordinator their fight against book bans in public schools. From their report,
“Several new protections for LGBTQ students and families were unveiled on Thursday by the Biden administration, including establishing a coordinator to “lead the charge” against banning books in schools, administration officials said.
The yet-to-be-named Education Department coordinator will train school districts and advise them that banning books “may violate federal civil laws if they create a hostile environment for students,” said White House domestic policy adviser Neera Tanden.”
Read the full article, “Biden administration to appoint anti-book ban coordinator as part of new LGBTQ protections”
Last week, Illinois became the first state to ban book bans. According to the New York Times,
“While certain hypocritical governors are banning books written by L.G.B.T.Q. authors, but then claiming censorship when the media fact-checks them, we are showing the nation what it really looks like to stand up for liberty,” [Gov]. Pritzker, a Democrat, said at a bill-signing event at the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago.
Read the full article, “To Fight Book Bans, Illinois Passes a Ban on Book Bans”
When it comes to fighting book bans and protecting our LGBTQ stories, the real work has to be done on the ground and meet these hate mongering homophobes with grassroot advocacy. When they show up with their propaganda, we show up with truth facts and support our librarians and teachers.
EveryLibrary.org has teamed up with GLAAD to create a step-by-step guide offering community members recommendations for fighting back, as well as success stories of others who have fought and won. From their site.
“We’re proud to partner with GLAAD on this playbook to help communities fight against book bans that are uniquely targeting LGBTQ Americans.
Download the playbook today and fight back! Everylibrary.org”
MoveOn.org is battling book bans by putting a spin on a classic way of taking books to the people with their “Banned Bookmobile.” From their website,
“Book bans have skyrocketed thanks to right-wing state laws which have forced teachers to remove books from their classrooms. In response, MoveOn is launching a “Banned Bookmobile,” filling it with books that the far right has banned, and driving it around to hand out those books, for free, in highly trafficked areas that will attract media attention. To keep the Banned Bookmobile up and running into 2024, we need your help.
Will you chip in to power our critical work?
“Don’t let anyone tell you that the truth can’t disappear. If I believe in anything, rather than God, is that I am part of something that goes all the way back to Antigone, and that whatever speaks the truth of our hearts can only make us stronger. Can only give us the power to counter the hate and bigotry and heal this addled world. Just remember: You are not alone.”
– Paul Monette, Last Watch of the Night: Essays too personal and otherwise
Book bans being enacted to allegedly protect decency and morality by Republicans and their ideologues only leads to one thing – book burnings. On May, 3 1933 at Bebelplatz in Berlin, NAZI students burned 20,000 books in a nationwide purge “against the un-German spirit.” An order went out that before books were burned this declaration was to spoken. “Against decadence and moral decay! For discipline and decency in the family and the nation!” Today, there is a memorial in the square to that night of fascist censorship and the atrocity that followed.
“That was but a prelude;
where they burn books,
they will ultimately burn people as well.”
– Heinrich Heine, 1820
We must heed this warning and history by fighting back now.
Read our previous Pride Month 2023 posts: