Banning books is not a new idea, but it is the latest chapter in the culture war against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. While anti-gay children’s literature is a mainstay in conservative school districts and libraries across the country, LGBTQ-friendly children’s books are not. And in the war concerning “moral values,” religious conservatives righteously feel they must do all they can to stop the distribution of LGBTQ-friendly children’s books before they leave the publisher’s desk.
At the annual Book Expo America held earlier this month in New York, publishers displayed new books about LGBTQ people written for children. One of Book Expo America’s most controversial children’s books was King & King, about a prince who falls in love with another prince.
“It’s inclusive. This is a book that librarians can recommend to parents because there isn’t another book like it. It’s a very positive book about gay people. Anyway, it’s widely purchased by libraries, and it’s in most libraries,” said Phil Wood, publisher of San Francisco’s Ten Speed Press, which published King & King, to ABC News.
However, in some libraries and school districts, King & King will not see the light of day because it is believed to be robbing children of their innocence and promoting sodomy and pedophilia.
“When a book of a very bizarre nature, a very offensive nature, is found in a library in an area that would be considered very conservative, this tends to raise some eyebrows. It certainly goes against our family values that we so treasure here in Louisiana,” Republican state Rep. A.G. Crowe told ABC News.
In Fahrenheit 451, authors attempt to write books that do not offend anyone or create any conflicting opinions. However, the city decides that the only way to avoid objectionable content is to simply burn all the books. If Bradbury were writing his classic today, the special-interest group in question would be religious conservatives.
Because of the outrage concerning King & King, Crowe wrote a resolution to urge librarians to keep books with LGBTQ content away from school kids.
In writing about this subject, I am reminded of my childhood favorite, Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi novel Fahrenheit 451. It’s about book-burning and censorship in a futuristic American city. Bradbury illustrates that the salient factor leading to censorship is the objections of special-interest groups. In Fahrenheit 451, authors attempt to write books that do not offend anyone or create any conflicting opinions. However, the city decides that the only way to avoid objectionable content is to simply burn all the books. If Bradbury were writing his classic today, the special-interest group in question would be religious conservatives.
Libraries are a gateway to the world. They open our minds. One of the places we can gradually begin to see attempts toward American democracy is in America’s classrooms and libraries. Our classrooms and libraries have the greatest potential to open us all to a wonderful world of different people and cultures. Our libraries are places that we can not only learn about different people and cultures, but we can also have them up close in our classrooms. And in so doing, we not only open ourselves up to ethnically and culturally different students sitting and living among us, but we also open ourselves up to ethically and culturally different people of the world.
Banning books that religious conservatives deem as objectionable, however, creates a moralistic view of LGBTQ people that engenders a cult-like mentality, instills fear, robs society of its rich diversity, and interferes with school policies to create an environment that is safe for all children.
Banning books also prohibits an individual from thinking freely. In Fahrenheit 451, a character depicts what it’s like to rob the mind of knowledge. “We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the constitution says. . . A book is a loaded gun. . . Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind.”
Educators have an obligation to develop a safe environment and multicultural curriculum that includes the history, culture and experiences of LGBTQ people.
There is a tremendous cost to us as a society in banning books with LGBTQ-friendly themes because it increases intolerance and insensitivity, and it ignores our plight for civil rights.
“I think the important part is for a kid to see himself in a book, and equally important for a kid to see people who are not like themselves in books, so they can learn to be tolerant of people who are not like them,” David Gale, vice president and editorial director of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, told ABC News.
The key word here is tolerant, and in making our schools and society safe for our children it is important to teach them to be tolerant of people not like themselves. I am reminded of Dorothy Law Nolte’s poem “Children Learn What They Live,” in which she wrote:
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to be shy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with tolerance, they learn to be patient.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with praise, they learn to appreciate.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves
If children live with acceptance and friendship, they learn to find love in the world.
We should all want to be part of creating a safe and welcoming world for our children. Outside of the home environment, schools and libraries must be the next place. Most educators today know that, especially those trying to meet today’s educational and cultural challenges. Educators have an obligation to develop a safe environment and multicultural curriculum that includes the history, culture and experiences of LGBTQ people.
In so doing, we will make all of our children better doctors, better lawyers, better teachers, better neighbors, and better human beings — creating a stronger nation and finer world in which to live.