Among Banned Books in U.S. Schools, 41 Percent Have LGBTQ+ Themes: Report

An estimated 41 percent of the books banned in U.S. classrooms and school libraries in the 2021-2022 school year were of 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 assault on LGBTQ youth.”

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

In April, PEN America released a report covering the first nine months of the 2021-2022 school year. This report found bans on 1,145 unique book titles, about 33 percent of which “explicitly address LGBTQ+ issues or have protagonists or prominent supporting characters who are LGBTQ+.”

PEN America Releases September Book Ban Report
A display of banned or censored books is photographed on October 16, 2021 at Books Inc., an independent bookstore in Alameda, California. A new report from PEN America says 41 percent of books banned in US schools contain LGBTQ+ content.
Collection Smith/Gado/Getty Images

The latest PEN America report 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 assessing titles banned throughout the 2021-2022 school year from July 2021 to June 2022, 41 percent of the titles addressed LGBTQ+ issues or featured LGBTQ+ protagonists or significant ones supporting characters . Of the 674 LGBTQ+-themed titles, about 9 percent had transgender topics, the report said.

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

“The vast majority of books targeted for removal by these groups contain LGBTQ+ characters or characters of color and/or discuss race and racism in American history, LGBTQ+ identities, or sex education,” PEN America said.

PEN America identifies book bans as actions “taken against a book because of its contents and as a result of parental or community challenges, administrative decisions, or in response to direct or threatened action by legislators or other government officials,” with effect of “a previously accessible.” Book that is either removed entirely from student availability or where access to a book is restricted or restricted.”

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The report includes a caveat that the tracks included have either been reported to PEN America or discussed in the media and therefore “there are likely to be additional bans that have not been reported”.

In addition to LGBTQ+ themes, 40 percent of banned titles involved black protagonists or important black supporting characters. 22 percent of the banned titles were about sexual content, 21 percent were about “race and racism issues,” and 10 percent had themes related to rights and activism.

In response to the report, LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD, in a Monday press release, identified book bans as “the newest way to target LGBTQ people and youth.” 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 for its inclusion in a Michigan children’s library.

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Ellis tells news week there were “very few children’s books that reflected our family” more than 10 years ago. “LGBTQ families and youth were not represented in any children’s media,” she said.

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

“But whenever representation increases, a backlash also follows,” Ellis said. “The thing about this current backlash is that it’s futile.” She said the estimated 20 percent of Gen Z who identify as LGBTQ+ are “absolutely standing up, defying anti-LGBTQ censorship and will soon be going to vote.” .”

Meanwhile, Ellis said the same organizations and figures fighting inclusive media are also often seen engaging in fights over other issues that involve “private choices.”

“Book bans are part of this extremist agenda that voters must vigorously oppose,” she said. “The freedom to read, marry who we love, and raise a family on our own terms should never be up for debate.”

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

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

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