“Banning books gives us silence when we need speech. It closes our ears when we need to listen. It makes us blind when we need sight.” — Stephen Chbosky
An estimated 36.3 million people have died from AIDS-related causes since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic less than six decades ago. The epidemic — and the response of governments worldwide — remains one of the most poignant reminders of state-endorsed ignorance and violence against LGBTQ+ people.
Today, the physical, mental and emotional toll of the AIDS epidemic still ravages the US. Yet if you walk into any given US classroom, you won’t find history lessons discussing how medical journals first coined AIDS: “gay-related immune deficiency.”
Nor will you find novels or autobiographies about HIV-positive people and their lives. Instead, you will likely walk into a room where the AIDS epidemic has been effectively erased from the curriculum and library via an easy solution: banned books.
October is LGBTQ+ History Month and historically, queer media has been repressed everywhere, but especially in the classroom. From inclusive sex education to learning about the Stonewall Riots, parents and school districts have been quick to label anything regarding LGBTQ+ people as mature, inappropriate and lewd content.
Not only does this lack of education result in oblivion, but it pushes children towards a future of anti-queer prejudice. When books about queer people and lessons surrounding queer existence are banned, children are being told that being queer is being wicked: it is unfit for children, it is dirty, and it is something to run away from.
This censorship of queer literature frequently falls under the category of banned books, defined by The First Amendment Encyclopedia as “a form of censorship [that] occurs when private individuals, government officials, or organizations remove books from libraries, school reading lists, or bookstore shelves because they object to their content, ideas or themes.”
Banned books often discuss important topics like race, gender, sexuality and sexual violence, and though necessary to discuss and learn from, parents challenge books to “protect” their children from the very real and very undeniable truths of history and current events. Books relating to LGBTQ+ experiences and history top the list of the most challenged books. With Banned Book Week over and LGBTQ+ History Month in full swing, there’s never been a more perfect time to read some of these “illicit and unbecoming” novels.
A recent addition to the banned books list is the middle-grade picture book “I am Jazz.” Authored by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel, it discusses Jennings’ transition and her struggle with body dysmorphia and a confused family.
In 2017, parents at Rocklin Academy Gateway challenged the book and demanded that parents have the right to ensure their children don’t share a classroom with any transgender student after a kindergarten student brought in “I am Jazz” for read-aloud. Though the school didn’t back down and stood behind not only the student but the book, “I am Jazz” has continued to meet challengers who believe discussion of gender transition and dysphoria don’t belong in learning spaces.
For tween and teen readers, the graphic novel “Drama” is a fan favorite for its witty and frank discussion of the middle school experience. From first crushes to first kisses to fighting with parents, Raina Telgemeier delivered a book that made young people feel seen, all without including any drug or alcohol use, cursing, or sexual content.
Yet thanks to its depiction of two queer boys, “Drama” has landed on numerous banned books lists. In 2017, it even hit the #3 spot on ALA’s top ten banned books list. Being unsure of one’s sexuality in middle school is common, and discussion and exploration shouldn’t be barred from classrooms and schools were growing into one’s self should be encouraged, not challenged legally.
Yet another book on the banning chopping block is “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Authored by Stephen Chbosky, the book follows a teen’s struggle with anxiety, sexual assault, bullying and queer identity. All such topics are prevalent in the world youth are growing up in, yet the book has been challenged for over15 years in a row for its discussion of rape and queer identity and exploration.
Put simply, banning books erases queer history and queer identity. Where students need education, they are being granted a blank page. Where youth need support, they are being spoon-fed prejudice.
So, this LGBTQ+ History Month — this fall, this year and this decade — it is our job to fight the challenging of LGBTQ+ books. It is our job to seek them out, support their authors, encourage young readers to read queer content appropriate for their age and increase our own knowledge of queer history and community.