Book banning and censorship in schools have become the norm in 2023 Texas. Last year, our state attempted to ban more books from local schools than any other in the nation. This legislative session, HB 900, which blatantly targets the stories of the LGBTQIA+ community by banning or restricting materials in public school libraries through a vague and undefined rating system, passed and is now in effect. This is despite ongoing litigation and a Trump-appointed judge’s ruling blocking the law.
October 1 – 7 is Banned Books Week — an initiative launched in the wake of surging censorship and book banning in schools back in the 1980s. Now, we find ourselves in a familiar time.
While our elected officials attempt to erase the stories of LGBTQIA+ youth, as well as Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, you can choose to celebrate and share these stories instead.
You can celebrate the freedom to read with literature that continues to shape generations and unearth stories long ignored in America like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer: A Memoir — two books commonly removed from Texas school libraries.
You can also fight back against censorship in schools and book banning by joining our movement to teach the truth in Texas schools, advocating for access to books at your local school board, and testifying against censorship bills at the Texas Capitol.
But first, you must know what censorship in schools looks like and how to spot book banning for what it is — an infringement on our freedoms.
What is censorship in schools, and how does it lead to book banning?
America has a shameful tradition of censorship in schools and book banning. Many books we currently consider staples in our English classes have been banned countless times over the years. The Color Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, The Grapes of Wrath, and Invisible Man are some examples.
It’s not because these books present a threat to children. The topics on which they educate present a threat to the agendas of politicians.
You might wonder why HB 900 is an example of censorship in schools — what’s the harm in a rating system? How is this the same as book banning?
The rating system imposed by HB 900 is vague, undefined, and leaves the burden on publishers and booksellers to rate materials based on their “depictions or references to sex” with no real guidance. We already know that anti-LGBTQIA+ officials want to erase any discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation from our schools. They certainly refuse to attempt to understand the difference between this kind of education and “sexually explicit content.”
The books at stake:
During the regular legislative session, we held a Read-In at the Texas Capitol while the House debated HB 900. Librarians, educational advocates, and community members gathered to read literature that could be removed from schools via book banning under HB 900 — one of them was Calvin by J.R. Ford.
Calvin is a picture book about an elementary school kid who builds up the courage to tell his family that he is not a girl, saying “For as long as I could remember, I knew I was a boy.”
The book goes on to depict a loving family who embraces Calvin — buying him clothes that fit with his gender identity, taking him for a haircut, and brainstorming his real name — which chooses at the end of the book. His friends embrace him, his teachers support him.
Calvin gives children a transgender hero, but book banning steals this story from kids who desperately need hope in Texas. Our students deserve to see what a loving, affirming environment can look like, especially in a state where our elected officials are obsessed with attacking transgender youth and their families.
HB 900 erases vital stories about LGBTQIA+ Texans — this is not only unlawful, but deeply harmful during a period when hate crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community continue to rise while our leaders stoke hate, fear, and division.
Our kids and our state deserve better than censorship in schools and book banning.
Amid these attacks on books and their authors, educators, and students’ rights, the Texas Freedom Network remains steadfast in our mission to protect our neighborhood public schools, fight for the freedom to read, and ensure our schools can teach the truth.
Governor Abbott has already called a special session on school vouchers to begin on Monday, October 9. We know right-wing legislators will continue pushing the governor’s unpopular scheme to steal funding from students in public schools, misrepresenting it as “school choice.” We also know that more efforts to censor truthful curriculums and books telling diverse stories could be coming.
This Banned Books Week, you can help us make book banning our history, not our present, by supporting our campaign to #TeachTheTruth, joining us at the Capitol during the special session to testify and rally in support of public education, and reading a challenged or banned book!