More than 1,500 books have been banned in the US, with a particular focus on titles relating to race and the LGBTQ+ community.
According to new data released by PEN America, there has been a “profound increase” in the number of books banned in the last nine months, due to right-wing censorship.
PEN America’s formal book ban count began from 1 July 2021 to 31 March this year. The organisation stated it was the first “book by book, district by district account of what books are being banned, where in the country, and through what procedures”.
The report revealed that the book ban includes the removal of books from school libraries, bans in classrooms, as well as bans due to challenges from parents, educators, administrators, board members, or because of newly passed legislatures.
PEN America defines a book ban as “any action taken against a book based on its content and as a result of parent or community challenges, administrative decisions, or in response to direct or threatened action by lawmakers or other governmental officials, that leads to a previously accessible book being either completely removed from availability to students, or where access to a book is restricted or diminished.”
In the PEN America index of listed book bans, there were 247 books that dealt with topics of race and racism (22 per cent), 379 titles (33 per cent) explicitly address LGBTQ+ themes or have LGBTQ+ characters, and 467 with characters of non-white identity (41 per cent).
The index also revealed titles that included LGBTQ+ topics, subjects or had LGBTQ+ characters were a “major target” for current bans.
“Titles that deal explicitly with LGBTQ+ topics, or have LGBTQ+ protagonists or prominent secondary characters have been a major target in the current wave of book bans,” the organisation wrote.
“This is reflected in the Index, with 379 such titles (33 per cent including a distinct subset of 84 titles that deal with transgender characters and topics (7 per cent).”
Books that include characters of colour or themes are race were also largely targeted with 467 (41 per cent) books appearing in the banned book index.
PEN America study discovered that the three of the most commonly banned titles pertained to LGBTQ+ individuals, characters or themes.
The most frequently banned books include Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, a comic on nonbinary and asexual identity, which was banned in 30 districts.
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson is a YA memoir that follows journalist and LGBTQ+ activist George M. Johnson. This was banned in 21 states.
Lawn Boy, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age nov, by Jonathan Evison was banned in 16 districts. While Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin was banned in 11 districts.
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison are both powerful books that deal with race and identity and were banned in over 11 districts.
“This type of data has never been tallied and quite frankly the results are shocking,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education told The Guardian.
“Challenges to books, specifically books by non-white male authors, are happening at the highest rates we’ve ever seen. What is happening in this country in terms of banning books in schools is unparalleled in its frequency, intensity and success.”
The wave of harrowing book bans across the US is akin to the highly controversial anti-LGBTQ+ legislation settling in across the country such as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ ban.
“The most controversial part of the bill surrounds the censorship of classroom discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Just Like Us ambassador Billy Nicholes told GAY TIMES.
“Although this seems damaging enough, critics have also pointed out that the bill’s vague language leaves it open to harsh interpretation by those aiming to eradicate or stigmatise LGBTQ+ identities.”