Defending the Right to Read: Book Censorship News, August 19, 2022

This week, the local-to-me Moms For Liberty contingent lost their bid to get Gender Queer removed from Barrington School District 220. Parents and community members who supported the right to read and queer students and educators in the district showed up to the meeting, and the committee reviewing the book found it to be appropriate for their high school library.

As this was happening, a new billboard showed up in Crystal Lake, Illinois, which is just a few miles west of Barrington. The billboard said that districts in the town needed to stop sexualizing children, and at their school board meeting the same night, a regular right-wing staple showed up and spoke about government conspiracies related to the 1918 pandemic (she’s been mad about a book in their school library since at least January). That individual filed three FOIA requests in a span of minutes to the school district. The first, which was denied, demanded to know the sexuality of educators and students in the district. The second and third were requests that could be Googled.

Snuggled in between Crystal Lake and Barrington is Cary, which has its own breed of right-wing parents itching to get their say in education.

Barrington, Cary, and Crystal Lake are close to Lake In The Hills, where UpRising Bakery was vandalized in July because they were hosting an all-ages drag show brunch in their private business. The event was canceled as they cleaned up the damage from the individual who drove over an hour to destroy the space the night before the show, and what followed was a lawsuit from the ACLU against the town because of how it decided to proceed. The queer-owned bakery was able to host the show to a sold-out crowd just days later.

UpRising also sent educators in Barrington a welcome back feast to kick off the school year and support them as they endure continued attacks by groups who have agendas and no background in education.

Never fear, though. The local Moms For Liberty group tweeted their support of educators as parnets (yes, misspelled that way), then showed up to the board meeting to talk about indoctrination.

I’m sure I’m not saying anything that will shock readers here, but if it’s not clear already, perhaps this makes it clear: while this is “about the books,” it is in no way about the books. It’s about the systemic erasure of queer people. If the books aren’t available and the teachers are called any number of names, then queer people disappear, right? And if a private business is vandalized — by someone who was at the January 6 insurrection — it’s not about education or indoctrination, is it?

I was unable to make the board meeting in Barrington to support queer members of the district. Despite that, and despite not being a citizen of the community but one of a town nearby, I wrote a letter. I‘m sharing it here in hopes that this can help others looking for ways to act and how to approach letter writing. You are welcome to copy and modify as appropriate.

I’ve shared a template before. This is that template expanded. In addition to offering support for the book and for queer community members, I took the time to lay out who the people behind these pushes to curtail intellectual freedom are and the “where and how” of these coordinated movements.

In addition to sending the letter to the board, I also emailed every teacher librarian in the district and thanked them for their hard work. One board member thanked me for that, as they knew how much ugly rhetoric and discussion around these hard-working members of the school community were fielding.

So much for the Joyful Warrior parnets supporting educators.

I wanted to share the above story because much of this is news to me this week. I live here, I spend a lot of time researching book bans and access to information, and yet, I did not know what was happening in Crystal Lake. It was a reminder how wide-spread this right-wing nationalism is and, more, how local media fails to keep their eye on these things — it’s being put on citizens to share this information and to band together, show up, and make sure that student rights are at the forefront of education.

This is not the beginning nor the end of challenges in Barrington. The district retained Lawn Boy earlier this year, and several other books are on the docket for review. Those include Flamer, This Book is Gay, Fighting Words, and All Boys Aren’t Blue.

It is equally disturbing that, aside from Chicago Media Collective, not a single Chicagoland media outlet had reported on this story until Thursday (the meeting was on Tuesday). They gave space to those who created the queer panic earlier this summer, but it has been radio silence still. This means parents who want to show up in support of education as a means to expanding world views remain completely in the dark about what’s happening.

The lack of local media, as well as the focus of legacy media on only the clickiest stories, is in no small part why we are where we are — and why we’ll continue to be plowed by these well-organized, well-funded hate groups.

Call To Action

Logo reading "get ready stay ready."

The Get Ready Stay Ready toolkit, built by parents and librarians, is one way to be prepared as an average citizen. This on-going effort is an incredible resource for staying up to date on issues relating to censorship and how you can prepare and fight back against these agendas. There are letters and templates you can use to contact school and library boards, training and educational resources to up your knowledge, and and resources aplenty for civic engagement, for supporting queer people, and for seeing and boosting voices of marginalized people. Save this and refer to it often as you continue your work ensuring access to information and ongoing support for queer and BIPOC students, educators, and library workers across the country.

Book Censorship News: August 19, 2022

  • A new Missouri law allows charges for “explicit” material, so educators are pulling books from their classrooms and libraries.
  • The Idaho Commission for Libraries just revamped their electronic materials policy and it is deeply disturbing: “Another change to the commission’s policy includes removing a section that states the commission “recognizes the responsibility of individuals to choose their own reading materials […] While a person may reject materials for themselves and their minor children, they may not restrict access to the materials by others,” another stricken section reads.”
  • Logan, Iowa’s public library is hearing complaints about a children’s book about Harvey Milk.
  • In good news, Alpine Public Schools will not be removing over 50 books from the schools (UT). This is a reversal of their earlier decision.
  • “”The library is not being inclusive of my Christian ethics,” she said. “There are Christians in this town that think like me. You don’t have to agree with us, but I do ask that you respect us and include our views in your decision-making process.”” This is in Wellington, Colorado, and I guess her Christian ethics don’t worry about the fact she’s using her husband — a member of the board — to push her agenda.
  • A board member of Rocky River City School Board (OH) does not understand the merit of or purpose of The Bluest Eye. These people are making decisions about your kids’ education.
  • “Edwards said the books are not banned from the schools; they will just not be available in the media center.” Then where are they? This is Davison schools in Michigan.
  • State Representative Jared Patterson (TX) is challenging 23 new books in Frisco Independent School District.
  • “Changes under consideration by the Hempfield Area School Board [PA] would expand the role parents play in the review of challenged course material and library books.” Parents are not educators. They do not get a say in what someone else’s children have access to. This is a nice reminder that part of all of these challenges is to undermine the profession of educators and library workers, devaluing expertise in favor of parent opinions. I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve seen what parents post on Facebook, and I’d rather take my chances on a teacher giving my kid a book.
  • An absolute mess of a situation in Enid Public Schools (OK) where educators were told they needed to remove 44 books immediately from the school, and then that was walked back.
  • “Lois Lowry’s “The Giver,” a Newbery Medal winner, was challenged for “infanticide and euthanasia.” Other books challenged were “Carlos Gomez Freestyles” by Chuck Gonzalez, “Cultivating Strong Girls” by Nancy Evans, “Julián is a Mermaid” by Jessica Love, “The Conscious Parent’s Guide to Gender Identity” by Darlene Tando, and “What Riley Wore” by Elana K. Arnold and Linda Davick.” These were the six books recently challenged in Prince William County Schools (VA). They have not been removed.
  • Mead School District in Washington is considering banning books on gender and “critical race theory.”
  • Bi-Normal was challenged in Wayzata High School (MN) but will be retained.
  • “This cannot be stressed strongly enough … there are no sexually explicit materials in the children’s area of the library! There is no pornography in the library. The library does not carry a single title being circulated to generate fear and hate. This narrative has been crafted and executed to incite a group of people to act against their own experience and judgment, or worse to act within narrow self-interest.” This letter comes from Boundary County Library (ID) Library Director Kimber Glidden, who just resigned her position due to the harassment from a certain contingent of instigators.
  • A reminder that in Kentucky, county judges can decide who is on a library board now. That power used to reside in the State Department of Libraries and Archives.