Banned Books Week: Our right to read, September 24-30, 2017

Author Shares Cautionary Tale of Censorship for Banned Books Week

Thu, 09/29/2016 - 11:44 -- Maggie Jacoby

This post originally appeared on Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's website. More Banned Books Week resources from CBLDF can be found here.

Author Gayle Pitman has seen first-hand how far censors will go to have a book pulled from their community after her own book, This Day in June, became a target in Hood County, Texas. Pitman shares her story and a cautionary tale of the effects of censorship for Banned Books Week on the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Blog.

In July 2015, Hood County, Texas became a bitter battleground between would-be censors, the LGBTQ community, and free speech advocates after more than 50 residents filled formal challenges against two LGBTQ-themed picture books in their local public library. Cheryl Kilodavis’ My Princess Boy and Pitman’s This Day in June were criticized as promoting “perversion” and “the gay lifestyle”, and concerned residents were calling for the books to be removed from the children’s section of the library and shelved with adult titles.

Despite the tireless efforts of Library Director Courtney Kincaid and an advisory board who had successfully fought up to that point to keep the book where it belonged in the library, the case ultimately went to the Hood County Commissioners for a vote. But not before CBLDF joined a coalition of other free speech groups led by the Kid’s Right to Read Project and in sending a letter to the commission, pointing out how removing the books from the children’s section would send a negative message to all of the LGBTQ members of their community and “create barriers to [library patrons'] access to fully protected information.”

The day a meeting was held to determine the fate of the books, “I witnessed people saying the most vile and disgusting things about me, about my book, and about Courtney,” recalls Pitman. “I heard veiled threats of violence targeting LGBT people.” Also in attendance were those who stood in passionate support of the books and their rightful inclusion in the public library. “One by one, each of them went up to the mike and spoke out in unequivocal support of my book and the LGBT community,” Pitman writes. “Their courage, especially in the face of all the horrible things that had been said, hit me so powerfully.”

In mid-July, the county commissioners made the decision to keep both books on library shelves. Certainly a free speech victory, the tireless efforts of advocates and library staff like Courtney Kincaid — who received the ALA’s “I Love My Librarian” Award for her work in Hood County — ensured that the books remained on Hood County Library shelves. “Unfortunately, the fight isn’t over,” Pitman tells us, adding:

[Books] about LGBT people continue to be challenged throughout the United States. Why? Because the most powerful way you can marginalize and disempower a group is to erase them – literally or metaphorically – from existence. That’s what book banning – and censorship in general – is all about.

As Pitman also points out, we can stand up to censorship and support the right to read. From encouraging your library to put up a display of banned books, to organizing a reading group to discuss challenged books, to attending meetings in defense of challenged books and more, the efforts of community members are ultimately what keep books on their shelves.

To read Pitman’s full piece on the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom blog, click here.