This week (September 22nd-28th) is Banned Books Week, which is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Inspired by an article I read this year (More than half of banned books challenged for LGBTQ content), I want to highlight some LGBTQ related titles that have been challenged or banned to make us more aware of the need to include a variety of voices. I hope that you will enjoy exploring these titles for yourself.
Angels in America by Tony Kushner. Angels in America was challenged at Deerfield High School in Deerfield, Massachusetts after protests from a community member who objected to its sexual, religious and racial content, and public attacks made by a local organization that called the play ‘pornography.’ However, after a major outcry from students and other community members, including a student who wrote an op-ed, it was decided that the book would still be taught in the Deerfield AP English class.
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden. It was published first in 1982 amidst controversy because of its positive portrayal of the story’s gay protagonists. There have been several attacks on the book because it centers on two 17 year old girls exploring their sexual orientation, though there are no explicit sexual encounters in the novel. The book was also reportedly banned in some Kansas City schools. The book was at the center of a high-profile 1995 case in which US District Court Justice Thomas Van Bebber ruled that the novel must be returned to high school libraries where it had been removed because it was educationally suitable.
Coming Out in College: The Struggle for a Queer Identity by Robert A. Rhoads. It was one of 55 books that parents in Fayetteville, Arkansas petitioned to have removed from school libraries. The parents formed Parents Protecting the Minds of Children and objected to the profane language and depictions of sexuality in the book. They also accused librarians and other opponents of their efforts of promoting a homosexual agenda. PPMC objects to this book because it promotes gay pride and a rejection of heterosexism.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is a graphic novel memoir of the author’s childhood, particularly focused on her relationship with her closeted gay father Bruce. As Alison grows older and realizes that she is a lesbian, she and Bruce are both forced to confront how his repression may have affected her own self-image and the way that she dealt with her sexuality. Time magazine named it the best book of 2006, describing it as “a masterpiece about two people who live in the same house but different worlds, and their mysterious debts to each other.” The musical adaptation of Fun Home won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical. In 2018, two New Jersey parents requested that it be removed from the 12th grade honors curriculum because of its “sexually explicit nature.”
Gays/Justice: A Study of Ethics, Society and Law by Richard D. Mohr. Gays/Justice was one of 55 books that parents in Fayetteville, Arkansas petitioned to have removed from school libraries. The parents formed Parents Protecting the Minds of Children and objected to the profane language and depictions of sexuality in the book. They also accused librarians and other opponents of their efforts of promoting a homosexual agenda. PPMC objects to this book because it endorses stronger civil rights for gay people and opposes organized religion.
Geography Club by Brent Hartinger. It has recently become one of the most banned and challenged books in the United States. It was banned in the author’s hometown of Tacoma, Washington. More recently, the book has come under fire in West Bend, Wisconsin, where community members object to its presence in the local library because of its ‘immoral’ gay content. Click here for the Kids’ Right to Read Project interview with Brent Hartinger.
George by Alex Gino tells the story a child who is born male and known to all as George, but identifies as female and prefers the name Melissa. The book details how Melissa comes out to her best friend, and eventually to others, through the help of a school play. Five elementary schools in eastern Oregon withdrew from an annual statewide ‘Battle of the Books’ competition because of the inclusion of George in the reading list. The book carries an age recommendation of grades 3-7 and the schools’ principals argued it was not appropriate for their third-to-fifth grade students who would be participating in the competition.
Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin by John D’Emilio. In May 2005, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on public libraries to remove children’s books with references to gay characters or families. In response, gay and lesbian civil rights groups in Oklahoma donated copies of Lost Prophet: The Life of Bayard Rustin and Stonewall: The Riot that Sparked the Gay Revolution to local high schools. The donation was met with conservative outcry but the Oklahoma City school board voted to permit the donation.
New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein. The New Joy of Gay Sex met various challenges including its being challenged at a Clifton, New Jersey library where the board voted to limit access to the book, keeping it hidden behind the circulation desk and requiring that patrons ask for it specifically by name. Additionally, a York Township woman in Medina County, Ohio quit her job as a librarian in protest over children being able to check out adult-oriented materials like The New Joy of Gay Sex. The library took no action maintaining that its policy was a parental responsibility to monitor which books children checked out.
Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse is a graphic novel about a young man coming to terms with his homosexuality in the Civil Rights era American south. Themes include homophobia, racism and gay identity. The novel was attacked by the Library Patrons of Texas, who objected to its inclusion in local libraries. They forced the reclassification of the book from Young Adult to Adult, but the book was not removed.
The National Coalition Against Censorship has even more titles on their website.