(NEW YORK) — Author George M. Johnson has found himself at the center of a culture war over what children can read.
Johnson’s memoir ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’, which chronicles his experience growing up as a black queer man, is the second most banned book in the United States and has been pulled from shelves in at least 29 districts schools across the country, according to a Pen America report released Monday. Schools cited sexually explicit content, including descriptions of gay sex and sexual trauma, as a reason for removing the collection of essays from shelves.
“It’s been bittersweet to have our stories attacked in this way, but it also amplifies a lot of our stories and I’m able to get the book out to teenage readers who really need it most,” Johnson told ABC. News Live. in an interview aired on Tuesday.
“If there’s anything I’m grateful for, it’s getting into the hands of the people who need to read it to heal.”
Johnson is this year’s honorary chair of the American Library Association’s “Banned Books Week” celebration – an annual event that began in 1982 – which has gained increased attention over the past two years as quantities of books are challenged and removed from shelves in public. schools and libraries across the country.
“Banned Books Week is very much about providing a space and an opportunity for local libraries to talk about censorship and highlight the importance of celebrating freedom to read,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the Bureau for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, to ABC News. .
PEN America, a nonprofit advocacy organization working to advance freedom of expression through literature, documents “the rapid acceleration of nationwide book censorship” in its latest report and finds that nearly 140 school districts in 32 states issued more than 2,500 book bans during the 2021-22 school year.
According to the report, the vast majority of challenged books are written by authors of color and focus on stories about people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. Meanwhile, states like Texas and Florida are leading the way, with 801 bans in 22 districts and 566 bans in 21 districts, respectively.
Following the release of the PEN America report, LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD said, “The book ban is just one part of a larger, organized campaign to target and harass young people. National LGBTQ”.
“Everyone deserves to see themselves represented in books and other forms of media, and the targeting of LGBTQ youth through book bans and other anti-LGBTQ school policies must end,” GLAAD said. to ABC News in a statement.
Republican Texas State Rep. Matt Krause, a leading voice on this issue, told ABC News that for him it’s not about banning the books.
“As a father, I want to make sure there are age-appropriate materials in our schools,” Krause said.
Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice, two former Florida school board members, told ABC News that as they observed their children’s experience with virtual school during the COVID-19 pandemic, they became concerned about certain content. to which their children were exposed.
They co-founded Moms for Liberty in 2021 — a grassroots nonprofit that grew “organically” among like-minded parents and now has hundreds of chapters in 40 states across the country, Descovich said. .
The group, which has fought against mask mandates in schools, is also on the front lines of demanding that parents have more control over what their children read in school.
“When you’re talking about age-appropriate kids, parents need to be part of that conversation,” Justice said.
Summer Lopez, program manager for PEN America’s Free Expression Programs, told ABC News that by targeting so-called “sexually explicit” content, conservative politicians and parenting advocacy groups have targeted LGBTQ+ content without putting the whole work in context.
“None of this is to say that parents don’t have a role to play in raising their children — of course they do,” Lopez said.
“The problem is when you decide that your concerns about your own child should apply to everyone else’s children,” she added.
Johnson said that when he was growing up he didn’t see himself represented in books and hopes works like “Not All the Boys Are Blue” can help children and young adults find validation and support. “It’s extremely important that our curriculum begins to reflect what our current school systems look like,” Johnson said.
“Everyone should be allowed to be seen and represented in the books they read in a way that I wasn’t when I was a teenager,” he added.
Lopez said the growing national and political movement to restrict what children can read has a “chilling effect” where fear of controversy or being targeted leads to self-censorship.
“The most harmful restrictions on free speech are the ones that the government doesn’t have to make, that we put on ourselves because of the environment we live in,” Lopez said.
“To be a vibrant democracy, we have to make sure people feel they can say things that could be radical.”
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