More than 600 best-selling authors, publishers, bookstore owners and advocacy groups Wednesday condemned the recent wave of LGBTQ- and race-related book bans in public school libraries across the country.
Over the last several weeks, lawmakers, school officials and parents in at least 10 states — including New York, Texas and Virginia — have sought to rid books about the lived experiences of Black and LGBTQ people from elementary, middle and high schools.
Some who are challenging the books argue that they contain graphic illustrations of LGBTQ sexual experiences or portray an unflattering image of the country’s history with race.
But in a joint statement, signatories — led by the National Coalition Against Censorship, an alliance of 57 American nonprofit groups that advocate for free expression — called the effort to ban the books an “organized political attack” that “threatens the education of America’s children.”
“Libraries offer students the opportunity to encounter books and other material that they might otherwise never see and the freedom to make their own choices about what to read,” the statement read. “Denying young people this freedom to explore — often on the basis of a single controversial passage cited out of context — will limit not only what they can learn but who they can become.”
The group included more than 50 independent bookstores, nearly 80 advocacy groups, top American publishing companies (including Penguin Random House and Scholastic) and dozens of authors, including bestselling children’s book author Judy Blume.
Books about race, sexual orientation and gender identity have historically been challenged in schools, but over the last several weeks, school libraries have seen a surge of opposition.
Last month, the governors of Texas and South Carolina urged state school officials to ban several books that contain “pornography” and “obscene” content. A school board member in Flagler County, Florida, filed a criminal report with local authorities after finding copies of “All Boys Aren’t Blue” — a young-adult memoir detailing the trials of being a Black queer boy — in her district’s school libraries. And in Virginia’s Spotsylvania County, school board members voted to have books with “sexually explicit” material removed from school library shelves, with two board members calling for the books to be incinerated.
Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, previously told NBC News that while reported challenges against books with LGBTQ- and race-related content have historically been “constant,” this year, the association has seen a “chilling” uptick.
“I’ve worked at ALA for two decades now, and I’ve never seen this volume of challenges come in,” she said. “The impact will fall to those students who desperately want and need books that reflect their lives, that answer questions about their identity, about their experiences that they always desperately need and often feel that they can’t talk to adults about.”
Queer advocates who signed on to the statement echoed Caldwell-Stone’s concerns with regards for the LGBTQ community.
“Every LGBTQ young person needs to see themselves in stories about their lives, to let them know they belong just as they are,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, an LGBTQ media advocacy organization, said in a statement. “All leaders must speak up against hostile rhetoric and behavior targeting vulnerable young people and books about their lives, and prioritize protecting children and safe spaces for all to learn.”
Author Kelly Yang signed on to the statement after her children’s novel “Front Desk,” about a Chinese-immigrant experience, was challenged by school administrators in Plainedge, New York, and York County, Pennsylvania, in September.
She said she was pushing back because growing up, she never saw herself represented in books.
“I remember living through that and feeling so incredibly lonely,” Yang said. “We finally made this great progress and the fact that this can be so easily wiped out by these book bans, and to have all of these books be pulled and in some cases burned, it sort of feels like an existential crisis. It just feels like we could be erased at any moment, and that’s a dehumanizing feeling.”