Common Thread Tying Together 2019’s ‘Most Challenged’ Books: L.G.B.T.Q. Issues

Common Thread Tying Together 2019’s ‘Most Challenged’ Books: L.G.B.T.Q. Issues

Eight of the 10 most challenged books last year were based on L.G.B.T.Q. subjects or narratives, the American Library Association said in its annual ranking of books that were banned or protested in schools and public libraries.

One of them parodied Marlon Bundo, Vice President Mike Pence’s rabbit. Another told a story about a marriage between two men. Other books on the 2019 list were stories about children and transgender identity.

“This year, we saw the continuation of a trend of a rising number of challenges to L.G.B.T.Q. books,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, executive director of the library association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, which compiles the list.

“Our concern is the fact that many of the books are age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate books intended for young people, but they are being challenged because they allegedly advance a political agenda or sexualize children,” she said. According to the association, the challenges came from parents, legislators and religious leaders.

“Libraries are community institutions, intended to serve diverse communities,” Ms. Caldwell-Stone added. “That includes all kinds of individuals and families.”

Challenges to books tend to reflect the times. In 2016, for example, an election year defined by political debates over bathroom bills, immigration and race, several of the most frequently challenged titles shared themes of gender, religious diversity and L.G.B.T.Q. issues.

In January, a Missouri lawmaker, State Representative Ben Baker, proposed a bill that would subject public library employees to a fine or jail time for providing “age-inappropriate sexual material.” Mr. Baker, a Republican, said the bill was inspired by library programming and events like Drag Queen Story Hour.

The Office for Intellectual Freedom said that in 2019, there were 377 attempts to remove books or materials from libraries, schools and universities. Most of the challenges came from patrons, followed by administrators, political and religious groups, librarians, teachers, elected officials and students.

The challenges — sometimes made in a written request, sometimes made via public protest — are not always successful, she said.

“But the fact that the requests are being made is deeply concerning,” she added. “We find that young people in particular need to find themselves reflected in the books they read. And serving those needs does not take away anything from those people with other viewpoints.”

Of the 566 books involved, these were the 10 most frequently challenged.

By Alex Gino

George, a 10-year-old transgender child who has secretly renamed herself Melissa, dreams of playing Charlotte, the female spider, in a fourth-grade production of “Charlotte’s Web.” “With refreshingly little fanfare, Gino uses the ‘herself’ pronoun to describe how George sees, well, herself — despite a birth certificate that says otherwise,” Tim Federle wrote in The New York Times Book Review in 2015. “George” was also on the American Library Association’s 2016 and 2017 lists of most challenged books.

The library association said some school administrators removed the book because it included a transgender child, and because they believed that the “sexuality was not appropriate at elementary levels.” Some who objected to “George” said schools and libraries should not “put books in a child’s hand that require discussion”; opponents also cited its sexual references and a viewpoint described as at odds with “traditional family structure.”

By Susan Kuklin

Beyond Magenta” was challenged for “its effect on any young people who would read it” and over concerns that it was sexually explicit and biased, the library association said.

Written by Jill Twiss and illustrated by EG Keller

The book, a gay romance between two bunnies, was the brainchild of the HBO comedy host John Oliver, who described it as a mocking rebuke of the vice president’s opposition to gay and transgender rights. The book parodies one written by Mr. Pence’s daughter about a bunny who observes the vice president.

The library association said the book was challenged over its L.G.B.T.Q. content and political viewpoints (“designed to pollute the morals of its readers”) as well as for not including a content warning. In one instance, a person defaced a copy of the book, writing: “Girl bunnies marry boy bunnies. This is the way it has always been.”

Written by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth

This sex-education comic book was challenged, banned and relocated for L.G.B.T.Q. content; for discussing gender identity; and for concerns that the title and illustrations were “inappropriate.”

Written by Daniel Haack, illustrated by Stevie Lewis

Josh Layfield, a pastor in Upshur County, W.Va., met with library administrators to object to the book, which is about a prince and a knight who fall in love, as “a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate young children, especially boys, into the L.G.B.T.Q.A. lifestyle,” according to the library association’s field report. It was temporarily removed from the library, but later returned.

In an interview, Mr. Haack said the “sweeping, epic, romantic adventure that features two men as the leads,” as a genre, was practically nonexistent in children’s books.

“I was hoping to fill that void,” he said. “When kids only see a certain way of being, only white protagonists or straight romances, in the media they consume, then that is the template for what is normal for them.”

Written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas

This 2014 picture book about being transgender has been at the center of controversy and a regular feature on the American Library Association list. Recent challenges focused on its L.G.B.T.Q. content and objected to the fact that it features a transgender person and confronts a topic that is “sensitive, controversial and politically charged.”

“We are not surprised to see ‘I Am Jazz’ return to the top 10 list of banned books in America,” Ms. Herthel said. “The increased visibility of young trans people combined with the unprecedented political attacks on the L.G.B.T.Q. community makes the book an easy target.”

By Margaret Atwood

Objections to this book centered on its “profanity” and “vulgarity and sexual overtones,” the American Library Association reported.

Written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier

Callie is a theater-loving teenager determined to create a set worthy of Broadway. The book’s L.G.B.T.Q. themes raised objections that it goes against “family values/morals,” the library association said.

By J.K. Rowling

The series was challenged over its magic and witchcraft references, for its curses and spells and for characters who use “nefarious means” to attain goals.

Written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, illustrated by Henry Cole

This children’s book, which details the true story of two male penguins and the baby chick they hatched together, raised objections for its L.G.B.T.Q. content.

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