Reading Banned LGBTQ+ Books in College Combats Censorship

Banned books frequently have LGBTQ+ topics and are written by LGBTQ+ authors. How can we help solve the censorship problem in schools and libraries?
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  • Many schools and libraries ban and challenge books with LGBTQ+ themes and characters.
  • Negative stereotypes and bigotry fuel the movement to censor discussion of diverse sexual and gender identities in schools.
  • Reading banned LGBTQ+ books in college can help eliminate readers' misconceptions of LGBTQ+ people.

Half of the books on the American Library Association's Most Challenged Books List were banned because of their focus on LGBTQ+ topics.

Banning these books in schools, libraries, and universities signals to young people that being LGBTQ+ is, somehow, obscene. As a result, LGBTQ+ voices get silenced. But reading and talking about banned LGBTQ+ books in college could lessen stigmas associated with LGBTQ+ identities and help reduce censorship of LGBTQ+ voices and topics.

The Problem of LGBTQ+ Censorship in Schools

There's a substantial history of censorship of LGBTQ+ topics and voices in schools — and it's still happening today.

Enforcing Negative LGBTQ+ Stereotypes Early On

In the 1980s and 1990s, several states enacted laws relating to sexual health education and HIV/AIDS. These no promo homo laws banned promoting being gay in school curriculums, which fostered negative stereotypes of LGBTQ+ people. Five states still have these anti-LGBTQ+ curriculum laws: Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma.

In March 2022, Florida signed the Don't Say Gay bill into law, which bans schools from discussing LGBTQ+ topics — including discussing sexual orientation or gender identity — in grades K-3 and through grade 12, depending on the appropriateness.

Such laws perpetuate stereotypes that label LGBTQ+ people as inappropriate and immoral, likely contributing to the significant mental health issues LGBTQ+ youth face.

Ostracizing LGBTQ+ Students

Anti-LGBTQ+ laws and hate groups that advocate for censoring LGBTQ+ topics make students feel ashamed and unwanted in schools.

The exclusion of LGBTQ+ topics in schools has detrimental effects on the well-being of LGBTQ+ students. GLSEN found that:

  • LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to experience harassment based on their sexual orientation and gender identity at schools with no promo homo laws.
  • Only around 20% of LGBTQ+ students learned positive representations of LGBTQ+ people and history in class.
  • About half had access to library resources with LGBTQ+ topics.
  • Around 20% had access to LGBTQ+ topics in their textbooks.
  • About 8% of students had sex education that is inclusive of LGBTQ+ people.

How Reading Banned LGBTQ+ Books in College Can Help

Due to a commitment to academic freedom in public colleges, professors generally have less censorship and restrictions on curriculum than primary and secondary schools teachers.

While not all colleges are LGBTQ+ friendly, they can offer more opportunities for accessing LGBTQ+ topics and banned books than other academic settings. College classrooms and libraries can play an important role by allowing students to access resources in a safe environment that helps them understand and express their sexual and gender identities.

Changing the Perception of LGBTQ+ People

Incorporating LGBTQ+ curriculum and banned books in class lessons helps normalize diverse sexual and gender identities. Some ways to promote learning that breaks down stereotypes and misconceptions include:

In a National Council on Family Relations study, most college instructors incorporated LGBTQ+ topics into family-oriented courses through movies, documentaries, and guest speakers. Instructors hoped real-life examples would promote empathy and normalize LGBTQ+ people's and families' experiences. They also aimed to provide resistant or prejudiced students with the opportunity to see how LGBTQ+ people's lives are similar to their own.

Promoting Relatable Stories to LGBTQ+ Peers

With so many LGBTQ+ students experiencing mental health issues in college, having access to inclusive books and other media is crucial for promoting well-being among marginalized groups.

The Journal of Homosexuality survey found that the more religiously conservative the college was, the less accepting of LGBTQ+ students it was. This resulted in higher rates of internalized homophobia and depression among LGBTQ+ students.

If you aren't queer yourself, reading books or listening to media with relatable stories and LGBTQ+ characters can be a part of celebrating sexual and gender diversity. You can share the stories with your peers to share and discuss what you've learned.

Reducing Censorship of LGBTQ+ Content

College instructors have the opportunity to incorporate LGBTQ+ banned books into their curriculum and help promote the value of LGBTQ+ topics and authors for future generations and prevent the banning of such books in the future.

After all, these instructors are the ones teaching future K-12 administrators, faculty, and staff.

Supporting LGBTQ+ Authors

Many young adult books have coming-of-age stories that are valuable to teens and college-age adults who are navigating transitional times in their lives. The ALA's bibliography of Over the Rainbow Books has many books with such themes.

Unfortunately, when books with LGBTQ+ topics or those written by LGBTQ+ authors are banned, these authors lose access to many members of their target reader base, which may negatively affect their success.

What Are the Banned LGBTQ+ Books of 2021?

Each year, the American Library Association's (ALA) Office of Intellectual Freedom compiles lists of what books are being banned or frequently challenged by tracking challenges to library, school, and university materials and services. In 2021, 1,597 books were targeted. Books in the top 10 with LGBTQ+ topics include:

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe

An illustrated memoir, Gender Queer discusses topics like gender and sexual identity, coming out, and being non-binary. The memoir has been banned and removed from numerous schools and libraries in various states, including Alaska, Texas, Florida, Virginia, Iowa, and Pennsylvania.

Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison

Lawn Boy is a coming-of-age novel that addresses topics such as racism and socioeconomic disparities. The book has been challenged due to sexual scenes and profanity, as well as LGBTQ+ content (the main character is gay). Lawn Boy was challenged in Fairfax County, Virginia and ultimately returned to shelves.

Parents at a school board meeting in Leander Independent School District in Texas protested Lawn Boy, calling it pedophilia due to descriptions of a sexual experience between two young boys, and ultimately contacted the police to investigate having it banned from their schools.

All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson

The New York Times Bestseller All Boys Aren't Blue is a series of personal essays discussing topics like gender identity, toxic masculinity, and being Black and queer. As of March 2022, 21 states have banned or challenged the memoir.

In Wicomico County, Maryland public schools, staff removed All Boys Aren't Blue from shelves even though no formal complaints had been made, saying it was a proactive measure due to complaints in other school districts.

This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson

This Book is Gay, a nonfiction LGBTQ sex-education book, is written in a casual and humorous tone that has been deemed vulgar by some residents of Wasilla, Alaska, who have asked for it to be removed from public libraries. The librarians ultimately decided to keep the book and reorganize the shelves to appease the challengers.

Additionally, in Brookfield, Wisconsin, a conservative law firm asked for Elmbrook School District to remove This Book is Gay from its online library, where students can access it via their school-issued computers. The law firm cited the book's sexually explicit material as not age-appropriate. It also deemed the school district irresponsible for allowing it to be accessible to children as young as third grade.

Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin

Beyond Magenta consists of interviews and photography of transgender or non-binary young adults discussing their personal journies with gender identity. The book was sent to a review committee in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, which recommended keeping the book in school libraries. However, it was banned by the school board regardless.