COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Because of the actions of one school district, Ohio is listed among 32 states with districts banning more than 1,600 books, with most titles featuring LGBTQ+ themes and characters of color, according to a national index.
PEN America detailed 2,532 instances of individual books banned in 138 school districts from July 2021 to June 2022 in its school book bans index. The bans affect 1,648 titles by 1,261 authors, 290 illustrators, and 18 translators.
Texas leads the index with 801 banned books, followed by Florida with 566, Pennsylvania with 459, Tennessee with 349, and Oklahoma with 43. The 138 school districts represent 5,049 schools with a combined enrollment of nearly 4 million students.
In Ohio, only one district 30 miles south of Cleveland, Hudson City Schools, is known to have banned books. Last school year, the district banned the following four books:
- “A Girl on the Shore” by Inio Asano
- “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison
- “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe
- “642 Things to Write About” by San Francisco Writers’ Guild
Jonathan Friedman, lead author of PEN America’s reports, said about 50 groups across the nation are pushing for the books to be removed from school shelves.
“They don’t really think that it’s important to judge a book as a whole, nor necessarily to think about how public libraries and public schools have to serve a diverse public,” he said.
The reason the books are banned varies. However, PEN America estimates that at least 40% of bans listed connect to proposed or enacted legislation, like the law in Florida opponents have called the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Of the 1,648 books, 41% explicitly address LGBTQ+ themes or have characters who are part of the community. Around 40% contained characters of color, while 21% directly addressed issues of race and 22% contained sexual content.
About 75% of the banned books are fiction, including titles like “The Bluest Eye,” “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”
The report was released when LGBTQ+ inclusion in the classroom is under debate across central Ohio. Last week, the Ohio Board of Education introduced a resolution that could roll back new federal protections for LGBTQ+ students. In Hilliard, community members debated if teachers should be allowed to wear badges identifying them as supportive of LGBTQ+ students
Friedman said schools are responsible for giving students opportunities to access information, ideas, and different identities. Schools help young people learn about diversity and empathy when they read about characters who are different from them, he said.
“For many LGBTQ youth, in particular, books can be a lifeline,” Friedman said. “If you are growing up in an unsafe home environment, often it is the public school where you might be able to find safety or affirmation of who you are.”
LGBTQ+ young people are known to have difficulty finding safe spaces. Research shows LGBTQ+ youth are five times more likely to die by suicide due to their inability to be out among family members and peers. In addition, 92% of transgender youth have attempted suicide before age 25.
These statistics are why Amanda Erickson, director of education and outreach at Kaleidoscope Youth Center, said teaching about diverse identities and family structures is essential.
“I think public schools particularly have a responsibility to reach every single student because they are a public entity — to support [student’s] well-being and development, to support families as well,” Erickson said.
PEN America said students retain their freedom of speech in schools, citing a 1982 Supreme Court case that said school libraries are “especially appropriate for the recognition of the First Amendment rights of students,” including the right to access information and ideas. Friedman said that right could be in jeopardy.
“Getting involved, advocating for young people and the freedom to read is something that any of us can do and, in the absence of people speaking out, it could very well be jeopardized,” he said.