Silencing LGBTQIA+ Voices: Banned Books Week 2020

Posted: September 29, 2020 9:00:00 AM CDT

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome! It’s Banned Books Week!! For those not familiar, this is the time of year when we celebrate our freedom to read. We also use this time to recognize that this particular freedom hasn’t always been observed. While there’s plenty to discuss in terms of the historical practice of censorship, we don’t have to go that far into history to touch on this topic. As a matter of fact, censorship efforts are still taking place today.

In last year’s Banned Books Week blog post I spoke about acts of censorship, beginning with the 1933 Nazi burning of Jewish literature and concluding with the 2018 burning of library books by Paul Dorr outside of the Orange City Public Library in Iowa. I’d love to say that things have improved since that blog post, but censorship still thrives in our world.

The American Library Associate (ALA) monitors and tracks challenges made to library, school, and university materials. In 2019, the association received 377 submitted challenges for a total of 566 books. Of the top ten challenged titles, eight out of the ten had a common factor: LGBTQIA+ content.

The first photo of this blog was created by ALA and is a word cloud of the top reasons for challenges. The top items are LGBTQIA+, political viewpoint, sexually explicit, and violence – with LGBTQIA+ being the boldest of the bunch (meaning it was the most frequent reason given).

Unfortunately, this is not new - in general, censorship of the LGBTQIA+ community has been abundant, but I’m specifically talking about titles with such content being targeted by censors. In the past four years, books with LGBTQIA+ content has made up half or more of the top ten/eleven lists produced by ALA.  

According to an article by NBC News, one of the claims against the titles on the list states, “schools and libraries should not ‘put books in a child’s hand that require discussion’.”

Meme Jackie Chan looking confused, text reads "Wait, what!!"

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, expressed that such censorship efforts are often “one person or a group’s attempt to undermine the diversity of and inflict their viewpoint on an entire community” as opposed to actually ensuring content is age-appropriate.

The challenges we’ve been tracking are based on the belief that some people can dictate what everyone should read, and I wouldn’t deem that reasoning legitimate. These books are developmentally appropriate, and families and children who need and want to read them should have access to them. – Caldwell-Stone

We often hear about – I have also written about – the importance of representation. It matters. It’s a plain and simple fact. In a joint statement presented by the National Coalition Against Censorship and co-signed by 40+ free-speech groups (including American Library Association, First Amendment Lawyers Association, GLAAD, Human Rights Campaign, and Planned Parenthood), they stated:

When public schools or libraries yield to pressure to remove, red flag or limit access to these books, they undermine free speech principles, further isolate LGBTQ youth and deprive all young people of opportunities to increase their empathy and respect for differences…. When LGBTQ stories are silenced in this way, LGBTQ youth and children from LGBTQ families get the message that their own stories—their very lives—do not have value, that they are shameful. However, reading stories that acknowledge their experiences, in which they can recognize themselves and their families, reinforces their sense of self-worth and helps them overcome the experience of and feelings associated with social marginalization.

Censorship is real, and its intent is often to silence a voice. They’ve attempted to silence the voices of religious groups. They’ve attempted to silence the voices of certain races. They’ve attempted to silence the voices of the LGBTQIA+ community. The question is: will we let them?

To learn more about censorship and this annual celebration, visit the Bell Library’s Banned Books Week guide. Explore the guide, have fun with the quizzes and trivia, enter to win prizes, learn about the library, and so much more. Also, be sure to stop by the library to view the Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five exhibit, put together by Ryan O’Malley, Associate Professor and Graduate Coordinator in the Department of Art + Design.

banned books week event banner

Here’s to another Banned Books Week. Now go out there and read a challenged/banned book!!




Aviles, G. (2020, April 20). Eight of 10 most-banned books challenged for LGBTQ content. NBC News.
National Coalition Against Censorship. (2020, April). National groups condemn increasing attacks on LGBTQ books.


By: Trisha Hernandez

Category: Today’s Special, Things to Do, Books & More