Apr 27, 2023 - News

Top challenged books in California focused on LGBTQ themes

Illustration of a bookshelf with rainbow-colored books wrapped in "do not enter" yellow tape.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Almost all of the top 10 books targeted for censorship last year in California schools and libraries included LGBTQ themes, according to the American Library Association.

Why it matters: California is often considered a haven for LGBTQ communities, but advocates say that libraries in the state are getting drawn into the culture wars.

The big picture: 2,571 unique titles were challenged nationwide in 2022, a 38% increase from 2021. Parents and patrons accounted for the majority of people initiating challenges; political or religious groups comprised 17%.

  • The majority were challenged with allegations of sexually explicit content and/or protests against LGBTQ content.
  • These numbers are "evidence of a growing, well-organized, conservative political movement," Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, wrote in a report released this week.

The ALA recorded 87 challenged titles in California in 2022. The top 10 were:

1. (Tied) "Beyond Magenta," by Susan Kuklin

1. (Tied) "Gender Queer," by Maia Kobabe

3. (Tied) "The Giver," by Lois Lowry

3. (Tied) "Lawn Boy," by Jonathan Evison

5. (Tied) "Fun Home," by Alison Bechdel

5. (Tied) "It's Perfectly Normal," by Robie H. Harris

5. (Tied) "Speak," by Laurie Halse Anderson

5. (Tied) "This Book Is Gay," by Juno Dawson

9. (Tied) "And Tango Makes Three," by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson

9. (Tied) "I Am Jazz," by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings

9. (Tied) "Red: A Crayon's Story," by Michael Hall

Between the lines: Demands to ban books with LGBTQ topics have largely involved claims that they are sexually inappropriate.

  • A lot of the rhetoric about books like "Gender Queer" also revolves around the idea that "these ideas are somehow going to dictate" how kids live their lives, said Jennifer Valles, director of programs at SF LGBT Center.
  • It's unclear, though, how many book challenges were successful.

What they're saying: "California is seen as this almost sanctuary state, but we have huge swaths of very conservative parts of the state," California Library Association president Gary Shaffer told Axios, pointing to a group of protesters who disrupted a drag queen story hour at a Los Angeles public library last week.

  • Books written by and about LGBTQ folks serve as an important avenue for youth to find acceptance and feel less alone, Valles said.

Of note: Some proponents of book challenges say parents should be the ones teaching their children about gender and sexuality, not educators.

The big picture: 9.1% of California adults — or roughly 2.7 million people — identify as LGBTQ, according to a Public Policy Institute of California analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.


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