If you’ve been paying attention to book news at all, you know that censorship attempts are at a high we haven’t seen in decades. Queer books and books by and about people of color are being targeted the most, with teachers and librarians being accused of “grooming” kids by stocking diverse books in their libraries or including them in curriculum. For anyone who lived through the ’80s or ’90s, it’s an unsettling echo of how gay teachers were accused of pedophilia at that time. It’s hard to overstate how much this is rolling back years of hard-won progress, and kids will be the ones suffering the most from the consequences.
It’s been a hard few years for teachers and librarians already. Schools shut down, pivoted to remote learning, pivoted back to in-person, pivoted back to remote, and teachers had to adapt on the fly. They put their health on the line when going into schools packed with kids and equipped with inadequate PPE. They taught kids who struggling with the social and emotional ramifications of a disrupted education as well as trying to catch up with projected learning outcomes.
Librarians, too, saw libraries close and then open and then often repeat. They adapted to community’s needs while trying to protect their health, often also with inadequate PPE. They faced patrons aggressively fighting against mask mandates and safety procedures.
This is stress on top of a system that’s already broken. Teachers and librarians are both underpaid, and there was an issue with teacher retention even before the pandemic. Teachers already work far more hours than they’re paid for, and the expectation of constantly pivoting back and forth from in-person to remote learning increased that exponentially on top of the other stresses, plus the exhaustion of teaching to a screen.
Then came the book banners. Suddenly, school board and library board meetings not only had people screaming about how masks violated their freedoms, but also had people accusing teachers and librarians of sexualizing children because they carried a book about a boy wearing a dress or a young adult book that mention the existence of sex. The aggression and horrific accusations take a toll. Many board members felt unsafe even walking to their cars after meetings. Many quit — and were replaced with the people taking books off shelves.
This month, there will be teachers and librarians and teacher-librarians who put up Pride displays, even amidst all the vitriol spewed at them, and I can’t adequately express my gratitude for them. Those displays will make queer people, and especially queer kids, feel less alone. They will feel more like they belong and that there’s someone in their community who understand them and accepts them. Having just one supportive adult in their life makes LGBTQ youth 40% less likely to attempt suicide.
Those teachers and librarians will almost certainly get hate for that rainbow display, though. Many will have angry parents (or just random adults without kids in the district) show up at school board or library board meetings. They may receive nasty emails, or have their display go viral on right-wing social media for “indoctrinating” children. They might even receive threats.
So this month, I want you to promise to reach out to librarians or teachers when you see a Pride display and thank them. The hateful book banning side is outnumbered; they’re just loud. We need to make our voices heard, too. We need teachers and librarians to know that they have support. Send an email. Reply to a tweet. Make a phone call. Even better: show up to those school board and library board meetings. Stand against the hatred and show that they don’t speak for all of us.
If you’re thinking that this doesn’t happen where you’re from (especially if you’re anywhere in the U.S.), you’re wrong. The book banners are organized, and they’re spreading their talking points across the country. If they haven’t made themselves known loudly in your community yet, even better: maybe you nip it in the bud and prevent them from even getting started by showing that your community stands with LGBTQ people, especially LGBTQ young people.
If you’re reading this site, you know that books matter. They shape our worldview. The books we read as kids help us imagine what’s possible for ourselves. They tell us we belong and that we are loved. We’ve fought too long to throw that away for queer kids now.
So when you see a rainbow display, say something. Tell that librarian or teacher or bookseller that they’re not alone in this. Take up that rainbow mantle and continue the fight.