The new year is finally here. We are headed into the third year of a devastating pandemic in a nation that seems more divided than ever. Continuing our work towards a thriving, liberated North Carolina with a powerful LGBTQ+ community united in service of racial and social justice remains our top priority. We’ve made progress, but there’s still so much work to do!
Already this year, several states have proposed anti-trans legislation, following a year of record numbers of anti-LGBTQ+ bills. A divisive narrative targeting education and LGBTQ+ and BIPOC elements of curriculum is driving book bans across the nation.
Efforts to limit children’s access to books about race, gender and sex identity have recently increased in frequency and intensity. The freedom to read is a right most of us hold dear. Many of us, especially those of us who are LGBTQ+, first saw ourselves reflected in literature. In light of the growing hateful rhetoric from some politicians, the current campaign to ban books is all the more chilling. In 2021, according to the ALA, more book challenges were initiated than in previous years. Alarmingly, across the nation these proposed bans are gaining traction, and several school and public library systems have capitulated to pressure from conservatives and pulled books from their shelves.
In December 2021, when many were distracted by upcoming holiday plans, the Wake County Public Library system quietly removed the award winning and widely acclaimed graphic novel “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe from the adult collection. WCPL serves over 1.2 million North Carolinians. Their actions often set precedents for the rest of the state, and this censorship was widely followed and criticized. Under tremendous pressure from the community, the book has been placed back on the shelf pending a full review. It is critical to stay vigilant to keep material like this accessible so that gender expansive and trans youth and adults can see themselves reflected.
Some frame this move to ban books as an organic movement initiated by parents, when in fact, this is part of a well-funded, national and strategic attempt to gain political capital at the expense of queer and trans kids and their caregivers. Many library advocates have shared that while they agree that parents do have the right and responsibility to monitor their own child’s reading materials, they do not have the right to restrict books for all children. Public libraries serve all community residents, and their collections ought to reflect that.
Recent surveys show more individuals identify as LGBTQ+ than previously thought.
According to the recently released Trevor Project report, “LGBTQ Youth in The South,” LGBTQ+ children in southern states such as North Carolina experience less support than their peers in other parts of the country. Additionally, the report shows these youth are less likely to attempt suicide when they feel “affirmed in their sexual orientation and gender identity.” Children’s lives are directly affected by attempts at censorship. Book bans send the message that queer and trans identities should remain invisible.
In some places, library leadership is resisting the call to censorship, as they should. The Texas Library Association issued a statement that said in part “Freedom in selecting materials is a necessary safeguard to the freedom to read and shall be protected against irresponsible attempts by self-appointed censors to abridge it.”
The rising tide of censorship in our country should be seen for what it is: an attempt to legislate us out of existence. The existence of LGBTQ+ individuals should be celebrated, not hidden! Queer and trans students, parents and community members thrive when they see themselves reflected in the books offered by their libraries. We must stay vigilant to prevent further attempts at silencing our voices!