Of the banned books in US schools, 41 percent have LGBTQ+ themes: Report

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An estimated 41 percent of books banned in U.S. classrooms and school libraries during the 2021-2022 school year involved LGBTQ+ content, according to a new report released by PEN America at the start of this year’s Banned Books Week. .

Some LGBTQ+ advocates say the report reflects a larger “organized national attack on LGBTQ youth.”

Book bans have increased in the US in recent years, according to the report released by PEN America on Monday. While some data indicates that classroom censorship efforts have increased by about 250 percent in the past year, the trend appears to be widespread, with the American Library Association reporting an “unprecedented” number of book ban requests in 2021.

In April, PEN America released a report covering the first nine months of the 2021-2022 school year. That report found a ban on 1,145 unique book titles, about 33 percent of which “explicitly related to LGBTQ+ themes, or have protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQ+.”

A display of banned or censored books was photographed at Books Inc., an independent bookstore in Alameda, California, on Oct. 16, 2021. A new report released by PEN America said 41 percent of banned books in U.S. schools contain LGBTQ+ content.
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The latest report from PEN America found an increase in the percentage of banned books with LGBTQ+ content. According to updated data from the New York City-based nonprofit — which this time reviewed titles that were banned for the entire 2021-2022 school year from July 2021 to June 2022 — 41 percent of titles related to LGBTQ+ themes, or featured LGBTQ+ protagonists or key secondary characters . Of the 674 LGBTQ+-themed titles, about 9 percent were transgender-themed, the report said.

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The PEN America report states that book bans grew into “a full-fledged social and political movement” in the 2021-2022 school year, which the organization described as “driven by local, state, and national groups.”

“The vast majority of books removed for removal by these groups feature LGBTQ+ characters or characters of color, and/or cover race and racism in American history, LGBTQ+ identities, or sex education,” according to PEN America.

PEN America identifies book bans as actions “taken against a book based on its content and as a result of parental or community concerns, administrative decisions, or in response to direct or threatened action by lawmakers or other government officials,” with the effect of “a previously accessible book that has either been completely removed from student availability, or where access to a book has been restricted or reduced.”

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The report qualifies that the included titles have either been reported to PEN America or discussed in the media, so there are likely to be additional bans that have not been reported.

In addition to LGBTQ+ topics, 40 percent of banned titles involved protagonists of color or major secondary characters of color. Twenty-two percent of banned titles related to sexual content, 21 percent related to “race and racism,” and 10 percent had themes related to rights and activism.

In response to the report, the LGBTQ media organization GLAAD identified book bans in a Monday press release as “the latest method of targeting LGBTQ people and young people.” In addition to “extremist” members of school communities, GLAAD said book bans are being pushed by “national anti-LGBTQ organizations and politicians.” GLAAD said its president and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis, is an author whose book was questioned this year about its inclusion in a Michigan children’s library.

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Ellis told News week there were “very few books for children that reflected our family” more than 10 years ago. “LGBTQ families and young people didn’t have much representation in children’s media of any kind,” she said.

In 2022, “that changed,” Ellis said, as GLAAD released books for children and “countless others,” contributing to the rise of inclusive books and other media.

“But when there’s an increase in representation, there’s also a backlash,” Ellis said. “The thing about this current backlash is that it’s pointless.” She said the estimated 20 percent of Gen Z who identify as LGBTQ+ “absolutely stand up, oppose anti-LGBTQ censorship, and soon they’ll be voting.”

Meanwhile, Ellis said the same organizations and figures fighting against inclusive media are also often seen fighting over other issues involving “private decisions.”

“Book bans are part of this extremist agenda that voters must vigorously reject,” she said. “The freedom to read, marry those we love and start a family on our own terms should never be in question.”

Regarding the upcoming midterm elections, Ellis said 2022 is “an extremely important year to vote”.

“We’re being inundated with anti-LGBTQ bills — more than 240 this year — and most of them are targeting state-level youth,” she said. “This year’s election is about protecting the youth and voting out the bullies.”

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