Schools across Texas are facing a new push from parents and conservative politicians to ban books on race, sexuality, and gender.
Parents and politicians have joined forces across 100 school districts in Texas‘s largest metro areas — including Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin — to submit requests challenging the validity of books on the topics of racism and LGBTQ experiences.
A new report by NBC News found that 75 formal requests were filed by parents to ban these books from their school’s libraries within the first semester of this past school year.
This is a new movement amongst parents and their supporters. The report found that only one such request was filed this time last year.
The majority of the books that these groups have raised issues with are recently published, brought in by school librarians in the past few years in order to update libraries’ diversity offerings for students. Many of the books depict coming-of-age stories of LGBTQ characters, including sexual experiences. This has been the crux of the battle for these books’ status in school libraries.
An anonymous student, aged 17, spoke to NBC News about the shift and the impact it’s had on her. The student’s family does not know about her queer identity, and she often found refuge in books, despite the fear that they may discover her reading a LGBTQ book in the library:
“As I’ve struggled with my own identity as a queer person, it’s been really, really important to me that I have access to these books,” said the girl. “And I’m sure it’s really important to other queer kids. You should be able to see yourself reflected on the page.”
Parents raise issues with LGBTQ and race-related books, but librarians disagree
The angered parents have taken a different viewpoint, perceiving the content as too sexual, or even pornography: “Why are sexualizing our precious children?” said one parent at a school board meeting addressing the issue. “Why are our libraries filled with pornography?”
Parents have also attempted to remove books dealing with racism as well as the biographies of black Americans, like Michelle Obama and Wilma Rudolph. They claim that passages of these books make references to racism that they feel promotes “reverse racism.”
But school librarians feel just as passionately as teachers do about the contents of their libraries. A group of Texas librarians has gotten together to oppose the requests called the #FReadom campaign.
“There have always been efforts to censor books, but what we’re seeing right now is frankly unprecedented,” said Carolyn Foote, a former librarian in Austin who is part of the group. “A library is a place of voluntary inquiry. That means when a student walks in, they’re not forced to check out a book that they or their parents find objectionable. But they also don’t have authority to say what books should or shouldn’t be available to other students.”