“Moms for Liberty” and similar groups say that they are fighting for “parents’ rights” by trying to remove books from schools. They claim to speak for all parents. The truth is, though, that most parents (and people in general) do not support book bans. When given the choice to opt their children out of access to their choice of school library books, less than 1% of Florida parents did.
Groups like this advocating for “parental rights” assume that parents are inherently conservative. They treat their perspective as “common sense,” that no parent would want their kids to have access to a picture book that shows a boy wearing a dress, or their teenager to be able to read a book with a sex scene in it, or one that teaches safer sex practices, or one that discusses rape. But there are just as many (and likely many more) parents who want their kids to be able to access LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and diverse books.
This framing also completely erases the existence of queer families. What about the rights of queer parents, who want their kids to be able to find books with two mom or two dad families? Do they not have a right to be included in lessons about families or in classrooms libraries? Is their existence age-inappropriate? Should their children not be able to mention their family in class? Then, of course, there’s the existence of queer kids themselves. Do parents of trans kids not have the right to have an affirming classroom for their child, where they can find books they relate to?
What about Black families? Do they not have the right to be included in classroom resources? (Books by Black authors are some of the most often banned and challenged.) Why is it that the discussions that Black families are forced to have with their kids about racism and police violence are seen as “age inappropriate?” Are “parental rights” just for white parents?
It’s not just accepting, queer, or BIPOC parents who are left out of this conversation, though. The other assumption that “parents’ rights” groups make is that all parents know what’s best for their child and are keeping them safe. Unfortunately, not all kids have that kind of family.
“Parental rights” groups make it easier for abuse to happen. They separate kids from networks of support. They keep crucial informational from kids that could keep them safe. Books (and lessons) about sex ed and consent can help children put words to the sexual abuse happening to them and allow them to reach out. By insisting that these are conversations that should only happen “in the home,” groups like “Moms for Liberty” ignore that home is not always a safe place to have these discussions.
For trans and queer kids living in unaccepting and even abusive homes, affirming books can be a lifeline. They can help them better understand themselves and realize they’re not alone. They can make school as a whole feel more accepting, when queer books are prominently displayed.
The truth is, I don’t think that last point is an oversight. I think that’s precisely the point of keeping LGBTQ books out of schools: to make it harder for queer and trans students to be themselves. To isolate them. To let bigoted parents have more control over them. But while those things may lead to kids closeting themselves — or, all too frequently, to suicidal thoughts — it won’t turn them straight or cis. It just prevents them from accessing their full potential as someone who is at peace with themselves and in community.
What You Can Do Right Now To Fight Censorship
Kelly has mentioned this in previous Censorship News Roundups, but I want to drive the point home: right now, find out when your next school board election is and make a plan to vote. Check out the candidates, and keep in mind that the book banning brigade is not necessarily stating that outright in their platform, so do some outside research, and keep an eye out for dog whistles — like “parental rights!”
Then, tell your friends and family. Offer to drive them to the polling place, if you can. Make a group plan to vote. Encourage people to vote by talking about it on social media. (Feel free to use this graphic.) It’s the best way to prevent these bans from happening. (Bonus points: do the same thing for library board elections!)
Book Censorship News: September 30, 2022
ImagineIF library (MT) created a “Parent Resources” section after Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham was challenged.
Two public schools in Louisville (KY) unanimously voted to keep Gender Queer on high school library shelves. The meeting took four minutes.
Katy ISD (TX) has passed a new policy that requires parents to give formal permission to high school students before they can borrow any books from classroom libraries. Parents will also be notified when students check out any school library book. Because we all know the most dangerous thing teenagers face is books.
The Superintendent of Alamance-Burlington School System (NC) pulled Gender Queer from schools without going through any book challenge process.
The School District of Pickens County (SC) has removed Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi from schools after being used as a supplemental resource in English classrooms for two years.
Dearborn Public School libraries (MI) removed access to all digital books after several titles were challenged. Hundreds of people showed up both to protest the ban and to support it.
The Seaman Board of Education (KS) voted to remove Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews from schools, but were split 3-3 on The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and Perfect by Ellen Hopkins, so they will remain on shelves. The parent who challenged The Lovely Bones said in the board meeting, “Kids don’t have real experience with [rape]. We don’t have books in [the library] about how to make meth or guns and how to properly use them or pipe bombs, for good reason, because this type of knowledge in the wrong hands is dangerous.”
“Did a Pennsylvania School District Ban the Girls Who Code Books? The Answer Is Complicated.”
The “parents’ rights” groups have to come to Canadian school boards, parroting U.S. talking points…without knowing how Canadian school boards work, which don’t have the power to control which books are assigned in schools or carried in school libraries. As the former deputy minister of education in B.C. put it, “A member of the board of Starbucks would not be telling somebody how much milk to put in a latte.”
Pamphlets were handed out in a Kelowna, B.C. elementary school parking lot that claim that SOGI (an optional Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity teaching resource) promotes “homosexuality and transgender ideology.” It also includes pictures from It’s Perfectly Normal. The person distributing the pamphlets was not a parent. The school district superintendent also explained that It’s Perfectly Normal isn’t in any of the school districts, but one copy is available for parents to check out as a resource if they opt their children out of sex ed classes.
It’s Perfectly Normal, Sex is a Funny Word, and What Makes A Baby have all been removed from South Central Regional Library in Winkler, Manitoba during a review process after they were challenged as “pornography.” Just a reminder: this should not be how books are reviewed. Now other patrons are denied access to these books just because one person complained.
- Who Are The Groups Banning Books Near You?: Book Censorship News, September 23, 2022
- A Banned Books Week Action List: Book Censorship News, September 16, 2022
- How to Run for School Board: Book Censorship News, September 9, 2022
- How To Create A Good Banned Books Display: Book Censorship News, September 2, 2022
- States That Have Enacted Book Ban Laws: Book Censorship News, August 26, 2022
- Defending the Right to Read: Book Censorship News, August 19, 2022
- How To Find and Develop a Local Anti-Censorship Group: Book Censorship News, August 12, 2022
- A Template for Talking with School and Library Boards About Book Bans: Book Censorship News, August 5, 2022
- The School Board Project, Round Two: Book Censorship News, July 29, 2022