My home state is at it again: Texas banned 801 books from school libraries across 22 school districts last year, the most in America, according to a new analysis by free speech advocacy organization PEN America.
While other states put up valiant efforts to stop their children from reading things like Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, or Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, no one came close to matching Texas’ volume of banned titles. Florida pulled 566 books out of classrooms, while Pennsylvania banned 457—mostly in conservative York County. Tennessee only banned 349 bans across six districts, so it failed to even medal in the Dumb State Olympics.
According to the study, 1,648 individual titles were banned across the country, affecting 4 million students. Forty-one percent of the banned titles are about LGBTQ themes or have lead or prominent LGBTQ characters, and 40 percent have main or prominent characters of color.
The report identified at least 50 activist groups behind the spread of book bans, bent on changing public school systems.
“Parents and community members play an important role in shaping what students learn in school, but this goes far beyond organic expressions of concern or the normal give-and-take between parents and educators in a healthy school environment,” Suzanne Nossel, chief executive officer of PEN America, said in a statement. “These groups have made it their mission to undermine educators, sabotage students’ freedom to read and stoke divisive battles that distract from teaching and learning.”
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And it’s already gone further than just banning books. People are attacking the libraries, the places that’s biggest aims to get books in the hands of people. Last month, a Tennessee district attorney suggested she would prosecute librarians in a viral video, and a Michigan town voted to defund its public library over an LGBTQ book. In June, a man (who worked at a library) spray-painted “groomer” across two libraries advertised as “welcoming spaces” in Maryland.
It’s important to have queer stories accessible to make sure more people understand queer humanity. It’s important to tell stories of racism and sexism so students can learn about others’ experiences or feel less alone in their own lives. The people banning books appear to be intent on make the world smaller and smaller for American kids until empathy and intellectual curiosity are things of the past.