Gender Queer Book Group Discussion. About 15 LWVN members gathered at the Waban Library Center on Sunday, December 3, 2023, to participate in a book group discussion on the book Gender Queer and on banned books. We had an interesting and lively discussion on the book, the struggles the author faced confronting er sexuality and gender identity, the use of pronouns, whether this was a book that should be banned, and whether the League should take a position on banned books generally. The discussion was coupled with a nice spread of refreshments and holiday cheer.
We thank the Waban Library for the use of their beautiful library. We appreciated the warmth, coziness and intimacy of the setting as well as (unbeknownst to us beforehand) their display of banned books and their support of providing access to banned books.
For those who could not join us, below is some information on the book Gender Queer, and on banned books generally.
The Board intends on exploring further the question of whether the League should have a position on banned books. If you have an opinion on this, or if you have encountered a book ban anywhere in the Newton library system (whether at public libraries or school libraries), please Contact Us.
About the Book
Gender Queer: A Memoir is a 2019 graphic memoir written and illustrated by Maia Kobabe. It recounts Kobabe’s journey from adolescence to adulthood and the author’s exploration of gender identity and sexuality, ultimately identifying as being outside of the gender binary. Gender Queer tackles topics such as gender euphoria, gender dysphoria, and asexuality using both narrative and illustrations.
Information on Banned Books
According to the American Library Association (ALA), Office for Intellectual Freedom documented 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago. The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubles the 729 book challenges reported in 2021.
- American Library Association’s Top Challenged Books of 2022
“[Book bans] diminish the quality of education students have access to and restrict their exposure to important perspectives that form the fabric of a culturally pluralist society like the United States,” explains TC’s Sonya Douglass, Professor of Education Leadership. “It’s a battle over the soul of the country in many ways; it’s about what we teach young people about our country, what we determine to be the truth, and what we believe should be included in the curriculum they’re receiving. There’s a lot at stake there.”
- PEN America – The 11 Most Banned Books of 2022-2023
- NY Times – Sept 21, 2023 – Book Bans Are Rising Sharply in Public Libraries
- Teachers College Columbia University – What You Need to Know About the Book Bans Sweeping the U.S.
“Why Is Banning Books Legal? While legal battles over book censorship in schools consistently unfold at local levels, the wave of book bans across the U.S. surfaces a critical question: why hasn’t the United States had more definitive legal closure on this issue? In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a noncommittal ruling that continues to keep school and library books in the political crosshairs more than 40 years later. In Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico (1982), the Court deemed that “local school boards have broad discretion in the management of school affairs” and that discretion “must be exercised in a manner that comports with the transcendent imperatives of the First Amendment.”
But what does this mean in practice? In these kinds of cases, the application of the First Amendment hinges on the existence of evidence that books are banned for political reasons and violate freedom of expression. However, without more explicit guidance, school boards often make decisions that prioritize “community values” first and access to information second.”
- LWV Florida Education Action Team White Paper on Understanding Florida’s Book Challenges in Schools and Their Consequences for Students
The League of Women Voters of Florida encourages advocacy to fight book bans and suggests action steps, among which include the following:
– Find out what your rights are and decide how much risk you are willing to take as an advocate against book censorship.
– Learn about the history of book censorship and why it occurs.
– Become familiar with books being banned today and what the objections to them are.
– Identify features of these books that will benefit students.
– Follow legislation to identify any bills, pro or con, addressing book bans, and communicate with sponsors of these bills to share your concerns.
– Join a banned book club and learn about groups organized to advocate against school bans on books.
– Educate others and build support.
– Identify League members and others who share your concerns and begin planning collaborative advocacy initiatives.
- Others Leagues that have expressed an interest, or taken a position, on banned books:
- While LWVUS has not taken a position on banned books, it has articulated its support for the teaching of a “culturally inclusive history curriculum that includes instruction in Black, brown, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Feminist, and Queer American history” (https://www.lwv.org/league-management/advocacy/talking-points-culturally-inclusive-history-curriculum).
- On June 13, 2023, LWVN held a virtual topic meeting at which Ruth Bourquin, Senior & Managing Attorney for the ACLU Massachusetts, reviewed anti-LGBTQIA+ activities happening today both in Massachusetts and across the country, and offered talking points, action tips, and other ways to push back against this growing tide. The presentation included a discussion of book bans, including attempts in numerous MA school districts by a vocal minority to remove books with LGBTQ+ themes from school libraries, and how to respond to those efforts. View the presentation slide.