Approximately 86% of all book bans across the nation have occurred in school districts with a local chapter of one of three anti-LGBTQ+ groups: Moms for Liberty, Citizens Defending Freedom (CDF), and Parents’ Rights in Education, according to a new report from the free speech organization PEN America.
According to their report, the groups have used a variety of tactics, including the promotion of state laws and rhetoric against so-called “sexually explicit,” “harmful,” and “age-inappropriate” “porn in schools”; the taking over school boards; the enlisting of parents to threaten public pressure or civic penalties against school boards, educators, and librarians; and the filing of challenges to books, primarily those with racially- and queer-inclusive themes.
State lawyers couldn’t even answer basic questions about how the law is supposed to work.
Moms for Liberty now boasts 284 chapters or local affiliates over 44 states; Citizens Defending Freedom claims 20 local affiliates, located primarily in Texas and Georgia; and Oregon-based Parents’ Rights in Education has local affiliations in 15 states.
Moms for Liberty has been fueled by right-wing funding and has ties to Republican politicians, according to Media Matters. It has also been associated with both the Proud Boys and Gays Against Groomers, two extremist groups that have targeted school board meetings and drag events across the nation.
Citizens Defending Freedom (CDF) has allied with anti-LGBTQ+ groups Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and Turning Point USA, according to Media Matters. ADF gave CDF $50,000 in 2021.
Parents’ Rights in Education recently hosted an event for “parents fed up with transgender and DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] education,” The Nation noted. The Parents’ Rights in Education national organization claims schools are pushing “anti-American, anti-white, and anti-capitalist sentiments amongst students.” The group also advocates for transphobic bathroom bills and policies outing trans students to their potentially unsupportive parents.
PEN America recently noted that book bans in public K–12 schools continue to intensify. “In the 2022–2023 school year, PEN America recorded 3,362 instances of books banned, an increase of 33 percent from the 2021–22 school year,” the group said. Authors whose books are targeted are most frequently female, people of color, and/or LGBTQ+ individuals, with 30% of the banned titles including either characters of color or discussions of race and racism, and 30% including LGBTQ+ characters or themes.
Most book bans in this year’s Index are classified as “banned pending investigation.” In these instances, a title is removed during a review to determine what restrictions, if any, to place upon it.
In late September, beloved actor and LGBTQ+ ally LeVar Burton — and over 175 other artists and authors — signed an open letter encouraging people to fight back against anti-LGBTQ+ book bans that are sweeping the nation.
“Far-right politicians like Ron DeSantis are championing draconian laws to ban books and the teaching of accurate multicultural American history in favor of upholding a homophobic, transphobic, and white supremacist vision of our nation,” the letter’s website, Artists Against Book Bans, reads. The website and campaign were spearheaded by the progressive political group MoveOn.
“This restrictive behavior is not just antithetical to free speech and expression but has a chilling effect on the broader creative field,” the letter says. “The government cannot and should not create any interference or dictate what people can produce, write, generate, read, listen to, or consume.”