Penguin Random House and various LGBTQ+ advocates have taken legal action against a Florida school district due to its book bans.
Over the last few years, right-winged lawmakers from various states – including Florida, Texas, and Utah – have used their power to ban books with LGBTQ+ content and themes regarding race and diversity.
According to PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans, the first half of the 2022-2023 school year had “1,477 instances of individual books banned, affecting 874 unique titles.”
While conservative lawmakers are showing no signs of slowing down their hateful crusade, LGBTQ+ activists and allied organisations have started to fight back against the terrifying form of censorship.
On 17 May, Penguin Random House and PEN America filed a lawsuit against Florida’s Escambia County School District and School Board after officials banned/restricted LGBTQ+ and POC-led books from its libraries.
In the 59-page filing, the two organisations – as well as a number of book authors and two parents with children attending school in Escambia County – accused the district and board of violating the First and Fourteenth constitutional amendments.
“These restrictions and removals have disproportionately targeted books by or about people of color and/or LGBTQ people, and have prescribed an orthodoxy of opinion that violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” the suit said.
Some of the books that have been banned or restricted by Escambia school district officials include: Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah Brannen, All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M Johnson, Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.
The extensive lawsuit also accused the school district and school board of “depriving students of access to a wide range of viewpoints” and “depriving the authors” of being able to “disseminate their ideas to their intended audiences.”
🧵PEN America Files Lawsuit against Florida School District over Unconstitutional Book Bans
Lawsuit joined by @penguinrandom, parents, and authors asserts that Escambia County School Board unlawfully removes or restricts access to books about race, racism, and LGBTQ identities. pic.twitter.com/9FFps68Gd6
— PEN America (@PENamerica) May 17, 2023
“The plaintiffs have joined together in this lawsuit to vindicate the rights of parents, students, authors, and book publishers to ensure that public school libraries continue to serve all communities and provide spaces dedicated to the exploration and dissemination of a wide variety of ideas, points of view, and experiences, free from viewpoint discrimination and discrimination based on race, sexuality, or gender identity,” the suit continued.
Shortly after the lawsuit was announced, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel released a statement expressing the importance of the lawsuit.
“Children in a democracy must not be taught that books are dangerous. The freedom to read is guaranteed by the constitution,” she said.
“In Escambia County, state censors are spiriting books off shelves in a deliberate attempt to suppress diverse voices. In a nation built on free speech, this cannot stand.
“The law demands that the Escambia County School District put removed or restricted books back on library shelves where they belong.”
Nihar Malaviya, CEO of Penguin Random House, echoed similar sentiments in his own statement.
“Books have the capacity to change lives for the better, and students in particular deserve equitable access to a wide range of perspectives. Censorship, in the form of book bans like those enacted by Escambia County, are a direct threat to democracy and our constitutional rights,” Malaviya said.
“We stand by our authors, their books, and the teachers, librarians, and parents who champion free expression. We are proud to join forces with our longtime partner PEN America.”