We’re number one!
A new report by PEN America — a nonprofit organization that works to protect free speech in the United States — reports Texas has banned more books than any other state. The total stands at 801 across 22 school districts, compiled in a report that looked at the numbers from July 21 to June 2022.
The state with the next highest number of banned books was Florida, at 566.
There is a distinction to be made: the number of bans “refers not to individual titles but rather to the number of times any school district has issued a ban,” according to Texas Monthly, which published a guide to the banned books.
The only district in Galveston County to do so, Clear Creek ISD put a total ban — meaning it is banned in both libraries and classrooms — on three books during the past school year, a KHOU investigation found in May of this year. The titles are: “Jack of Hearts (and other parts)” by L.C. Rosen, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel.
All of them have to do with gender and sexuality. In fact, PEN America’s report found that 41 percent of the banned titles — country-wide, not only in Texas — had to do with “LGBTQ+ themes, protagonists, or prominent secondary characters.” The report found 22 percent had to do with sexual content in general and 40 percent and 21 percent had to do with, respectively, “protagonists or prominent secondary characters of color,” and “titles with issues of race or racism.”
Book restrictions and bans aren’t only a problem in schools. In November of last year, a League City councilman demanded that a book on sex and sexuality — “Sex is a Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg — removed from the Helen Hall Public Library. The councilman said the comic book, which was written for children ages 8-10 and “covers topics like sexuality, gender and masturbation,” was “indoctrinating and smut.” Never mind that the book had won two American Library Association awards, or that scientific studies have found that sexual education for children is an effective prevention method against sexual violence.
State Rep. Matt Krause recommended in October of last year that schools ban a number of books — 850 — from a list he compiled, saying that he was targeting materials that “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress because of their sex or race.”
The list included “Harvey Milk: The First Openly Gay Elected Official in the United States,” “Abortion Decisions of the Supreme Court, 1973 through 1989: A Comprehensive Review with Historical Commentary” and “V for Vendetta.” Never mind the fact that Krause’s website touts his work “defending the free speech rights” of various clients during his time as a lawyer.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation, one of the most prominent child welfare organizations in the United States, already ranked Texas as one of the worst states for overall child well-being — No. 45 — and for education — No. 33. Maybe legislators, parents, administrators and really anyone who claims concerns about what children might be reading should focus on remedying that, rather than working to make books more inaccessible.
“This rapidly accelerating movement has resulted in more and more students losing access to literature that equips them to meet the challenges and complexities of democratic citizenship,” Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s free expression and education programs and the lead author of the report, said in a statement.
Banning books in classrooms and libraries is a complicated issue for some — although CBS News reported in February that eight out of 10 Americans “don’t think books should be banned from schools for discussing race and criticizing U.S. history.”
What it does come down to is the problem of censorship. A parent who may be deeply opposed to LGBTQ people is allowed that opinion. But when said parent fights to remove the book from not only their own child’s hands, but the hands of all children, even those who don’t espouse the same beliefs, it starts to infringe on First Amendment rights.
Removing children’s access to books, whether they be about critical race theory, gender and sexuality, or because they’re just plain bummers to read, is a detriment to society. It prevents independent thought and critical thinking skills and shields children from learning about the world on a wider scale. Children deserve to see themselves reflected in the literature they read, even if that self isn’t what others want to see.
It should alarm us all that Texas is riding vanguard on the topic of censorship. Whether it’s working in your favor or not, freedom of expression and our First Amendment rights must be protected — and to ban books is to work against that.
• Ivy Hettinger-Roberts