The American Library Association this week released their annual top 10 list of banned and challenged books. In addition to a striking number of titles that address racism and inequality, George, a novel about a trans character written by Alex Gino, once again tops the list. George has been in print since 2015 and has been on the top 10 list every year since 2016. It’s earned the top spot for the past three years. Attempts to ban LGBTQ stories go much farther than challenges in individual schools and libraries. Across the country, state lawmakers are considering legislation that aims to ban teaching books with LGBTQ themes and punish teachers for exposing students to material that addresses sexuality and gender expression.
In Tennessee, a bill that would forbid any school from using any instructional materials that promote or even discuss LGBTQ+ “issues or lifestyles” has advanced to the House Education committee. At a subcommittee hearing on March 30, the sponsor of the bill, Representative Bruce Griffey (R, Paris), stated that he was motivated to introduced the bill because the State is not permitted to teach “Christian values,” and hence the bill is necessary to ensure that “neither side has an unfair advantage over the other regarding what’s being taught in our school to our children.”
In Georgia, a bill has passed the Senate that would require all school districts in the state to establish procedures whereby a student’s parent or guardian can file a complaint alleging that material available to that student is “harmful to minors.” The bill requires that school principals rule on such complaints within ten business days without requiring them to get input from a committee of educators or other parents. NCAC’s best practices for reviewing challenged books call for a committee of diverse stakeholders–teachers, parents, librarians and administrators–to weigh in on these decisions. Moreover, the House version of the bill, which was recently approved by the House Committee on the Judiciary – Non-Civil, would require schools to publicly post the text of all challenged works which are not removed online for four years. That provision encourages principals to remove books, because it exposes them to more scrutiny when they keep challenged books in classrooms.
In Minnesota, a bill was introduced in the Senate on March 1 which deletes schools from the list of institutions immune from criminal penalty for distribution or exhibition of sexually explicit materials deemed harmful to minors. The bill is a companion to a House bill on which there has been no action since it was referred to committee in January. Schools have been exempt from such penalties to allow for teachers to teach a broad range of materials without fear of criminal prosecution. The specter of a criminal penalty for choosing the wrong book would have a chilling effect on teachers, leading them to avoid titles that students can legally read.
NCAC advocates for the rights of students, teachers and librarians to read freely, to access information and to explore new ideas. A strong education demands exposure to diverse viewpoints, ideas and experiences. Parents who object to specific books in schools may ask for alternate assignments for their own children. What they cannot be permitted to do is determine what books, art or ideas are available to other young people. NCAC strongly objects to legislative attempts to make it easier for the viewpoints of a few to limit the education of all students.