Media

Banning Gay Books

Books with gay themes are increasingly banned in schools and libraries, and local school boards are taking the heat.
The children's picture book King & King is a cute little fairy tale where a young crown prince searches for love, rejecting one suitor after another until he finds his soul mate. Like most fairy tales, this one has a happy ending, with the prince becoming king and living happily ever after with the person he loves.

But in the real world, there isn't such a fairy-tale ending for this book.

The reason is that the plot of King & King, by authors Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, puts the fairy tale world on its ear. In their version of happily ever after, the young crown prince rejects princess after princess as a potential bride until finding his heart with another prince, who he takes as his husband. The book has caused so much stir among opponents that it landed on the American Library Association's Top 10 list of most-challenged books for 2004.

And it isn't alone as a book with a gay theme that has landed on the organization's Top 10 most challenged list. This year, three of the 10 books on the list landed there specifically because of their gay content, according to the American Library Association.

The other two are "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," a young adult novel by Stephen Chbosky, and "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," by poet Maya Angelou.

That's the most number of books dealing with homosexuality to land on the annual Top 10 challenged list in a decade.

The American Library Association defines a "challenged book" as one that has received a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school. The complaint on a challenged book includes a request that a book be removed from the shelf, or placed in a special section (usually available only to adults.)

In 2004, the last year for which the American Library Association has statistics, there were 547 complaints about books. But that is only the number of reported challenges. Library Association officials estimate the number of actual challenges is anywhere from four to five times that number. It's no coincidence that the number of books with gay themes has increased this past year. The international and national headlines regarding same-sex marriage have brought the issue of gay rights to the forefront. In addition, the Internet has greatly increased the movement of trying to get books banned, Pat Scales, a school librarian in South Carolina and author of "Teaching Banned Books," told the Washington Post.

"It's become a huge Internet movement," she told the newspaper.

And it looks like the foot soldiers of banning books with gay content are gaining some significant headway. In at least three states -- Alabama, Louisiana and Oklahoma -- those opposed to books with gay content have tried to convince lawmakers to eliminate funding for libraries or schools that offer materials dealing with homosexuality, or for books and materials that are written by gays or lesbians.

Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC) has introduced legislation that would require local schools to create "parent councils" to oversee books and other educational materials purchased by school districts for use in classrooms, or that would be available in school libraries. He proposed the bill after hearing complaints about King & King.

Banning these books is an attack not only on gays and lesbians, but also on the very premise of intellectual freedom in a democratic society. But the religious right, which is most often behind the challenges and attempted book bans, almost always quite cleverly casts the debate in terms of "protecting" children from "adult" material, as if school libraries are handing out copies of Honcho to fifth graders.

The core of this battle is, of course, a fight over information, and opponents of gay rights know that the more information people, including kids, get about homosexuality, the less likely they are to end up being prejudiced against gays and lesbians.

But we can't blame the fact that we are apparently losing this battle solely on the religious right. Those of us in the gay and lesbian movement have to take part of the blame ourselves. All too often, gay and lesbian activists are obsessed with Beltway politics in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, the religious right has been getting stealth candidates elected to local school boards around the country.

Gay and lesbians with or without children need to look at local school board politics. Schools and libraries should be open sources of education and information for our kids and our country. It's up to us to help make sure they stay that way.
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