Learn more about the blue state booksellers fighting Texas books ban from Maryland:
“Freedom of speech is the bedrock of any democracy. Books are a way to see outside of your own worldview and have empathy in ways you might not otherwise. They require the mind’s eye to open in a different way than any other medium. They’re timeless, and they’re never going away — despite what Governor Greg Abbott and his allies might want.
“We have books in our store about transgender kids because there are transgender kids in our community and communities across America. To suggest that books can make people ‘turn gay’ or transgender is a wild misreading of history. People were gay and transgender for a long time before they had books about it. People will be LGBTQIA+ in the future, and there’s going to be queer people anywhere you look in the world. There always have been.”
– Matt Bormet, co-owner of People’s Book
When Matt Bormet, the co-owner of People’s Book in Takoma Park, Maryland, heard the state of Texas was weaponizing the role of publishers and independent bookstores to ban books through HB 900, he saw this piece of legislation for what it is: An attack on freedom of speech. An attack on democracy. A downright offensive swipe at local booksellers who keep the power of community and reading alive in our increasingly digitized world.
Texas Freedom Network has been fighting censorship in Texas for almost three decades, so it makes sense that when Matt took to Google to find out how his bookstore could help, he found us.
Now, People’s Book, owned by Matt Bormet and his wife Megan, has a shelf in the shop dedicated to books targeted by censorship and bans in Texas. Customers can purchase a book from the shelf, and in turn, People’s Book will be donating them to Texas Freedom Network for future Read-Ins, Teach-Ins, and general rabblerousing as we continue pushing back against the religious right’s extremist crusade to ban books — particularly those that honor the stories and experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Description: Banned Book Shelf and Donation Box at People’s Book in Takoma Park, MD
We are unendingly grateful for People’s Book’s generosity, and we had to learn more about these blue state booksellers fighting Texas books ban from Maryland.
As Matt tells it, Takoma Park is “a liberal bastion.” It’d be simple to ignore what’s happening in Texas. Grandparents and aunts in Matt’s community would still come in to buy How to Support Your Nonbinary Family Member, and transgender kids would still have a place to find literature and stories that mirror their experiences.
“And being a bookseller is not easy,” says Matt. “We love it, but we fall asleep pretty quickly each night,” he remarks about him and Megan.
“We’ve only been open about four months, and we’re not looking to take on more. But what’s happening in Texas is just so antithetical to bookselling, our business, and to what it signifies, that it’s hard not to be involved.”
Matt and Megan’s unwillingness to look away is an act of solidarity we desperately need from progressives outside of Texas.
We cannot be in this fight alone, and with allies like People’s Book, we never will be.
Learn more about Matt Bormet and People’s Book from the following conversation we had about HB 900, censorship, and the responsibility of allies in blue states:
First, a bit about Matt:
I grew up in Ohio outside of Cincinnati (which was super red) during the time of John Boehner. When I was 13, we ended up moving to Oregon. After I graduated from high school in Oregon, I came out here to Washington DC. I’ve been here for 23 years — working in politics mostly. I spent the better part of two decades working for members of Congress from the Pacific Northwest, and I learned that nothing gets done without talking to the other side.
When it comes to fighting Texas book bans and censorship, how do you see your role as a bookseller?
I didn’t open a bookstore to give reports to the government about what I’m selling. As a bookseller, it’s personally offensive to me to suggest that booksellers ought to act as agents of the state, determining who can read what. The answer is just no, and thank goodness for organizations like Texas Freedom Network and your partners for pushing back on that.
One of the reasons we ended up in Takoma Park, which is so close to DC that I could throw a baseball to DC’s city limits from the front of our store — I mean, maybe not everyone could do that, but I can throw a baseball pretty far —
A quick aside for the reader: (It was incredibly important to Matt that we make sure you know he can throw a baseball very, very far).
Is that we have a two-year-old and a four-year-old, and we wanted to move into a community where our kids, no matter who they were, would feel welcome.
My wife Megan has been a teacher, a vice principal, and a reading coach. She is very passionate about juvenile literacy and kid’s books. It’s deeply antithetical to our values to tell kids they can’t be who they are and to deny them materials that show them both a window into the world and a mirror that reflects back on their own experience.
When did you first hear about book censorship in Texas?
There’s not a lot of national news surrounding bookstores. So when we saw that BookPeople in Austin was one of the plaintiffs in the case against HB 900, we deeply admired their choice to be part of the lawsuit. That’s a serious financial and emotional drain that you probably don’t have the extra energy for in this business.
After we saw the news, a quick Google search led us to Texas Freedom Network, and we deeply support the work you all do in other issue areas as well.
For Banned Books Week, we partnered with a bookstore in Florida, where similar laws are cropping up. That was a great success. Our community is eager to be helpful, and we’re incredibly grateful to them.
I would love to hear your perspective on where books and other media have a place in creating societal change and progress. Why are these stories so important?
Freedom of speech is the bedrock of any democracy. Books are a way to see outside of your own worldview and have empathy in ways you might not otherwise.
We truly started this store because we wanted to model for our kids what’s important, and for us, that’s community and books. This is the opportunity to do both of those things. Books take you to a place that no other media can. They require the mind’s eye to open in a different way than any other medium. They’re timeless, and they’re never going away — despite what Governor Greg Abbott and his allies might want.
A key goal of HB 900 is to target books that talk about LGBTQIA+ kids and families. Why is banning this kind of content so harmful?
We have books in our store about transgender kids because there are transgender kids in our community and communities across America. We have transgender kids who come into our store. I have parents coming in who are interested in how they can best support their children. One of the best-selling books is a zine called How to Support Your Nonbinary Family Member.
To suggest that books can make people ‘turn gay’ or transgender is a wild misreading of history. People were gay and transgender for a long time before they had books about it. People will be LGBTQIA+ in the future, and there’s going to be queer people anywhere you look in the world. There always have been.
What do you see as the role and responsibility of progressives outside of Conservative states to help shape policy or even help people living in those states have access to basic rights?
Texas is a mess, but it’s not that far away from not being a mess. It’s not unachievable. Giving up on sections of the country is not only cynical, it’s a disaster for the future of the United States.
Caring about humans is important. I love America. It’s my favorite country. I’m not going anywhere, and I kind of need everybody in Texas to stick with us. So I care about you all in the same way I care about people in Maryland.
The world can be an overwhelming place, and there are a lot of folks who don’t engage in social justice or advocacy not because they don’t care, but because it can be overwhelming. What would you say to folks who want to make a difference but don’t know where to start?
The ‘everythingness’ of everything is very hard. I will say that what’s made a difference for me is starting in my own neighborhood — building community — like we have with the bookstore.
I’ve met so many people in Takoma Park who are delighted there’s a bookstore here and want to talk about books or have events. People from all different backgrounds are constantly in the space, and that’s a humanizing thing in a largely dehumanized world.
We can’t solve everything, but we can create circumstances for people in our community to feel more connected to each other as human beings.
This is why Texas Freedom Network’s mission is so important. Community organizing is the backbone of almost every good thing that’s happened in this country.
The freedom to read is foundational, and without it, we may not notice as Texas’ leaders continue to chip away at the rest of our freedoms — freedom over our own bodies, our ability to make healthcare choices for our transgender children, freedom to vote, freedom to live in communities along the border without fear of racial profiling and criminalization.
We’re honored to be fighting Texas book bans with Matt, Megan, and the People’s Book community. Learn how YOU can fight Texas book bans and educational censorship by visiting tfn.org/teachthetruth.
Additionally, we hope you’ll consider celebrating the freedom to read this holiday season by supporting independent booksellers like Takoma Park’s People’s Book (they ship!), as well as the plaintiffs in the case against HB 900, Austin’s BookPeople, and Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop.