Book burning is as old as books themselves. People in power always felt a need to control what their subjects read.

For centuries libraries have been destroyed by religious or political fanatics who did not like the material that was in them. Until recently the Roman Catholic Church published an index of prohibited books that listed titles that the Church did not want Catholics to read. Totalitarian regimes like the Third Reich or the Soviet Union suppressed reading material (and their authors) for all sorts of reasons. Even the United States, with our tradition of free expression, constantly banned books, mostly to save us from “obscenity” or “pornography.” Anthony Comstock’s New York Society for the Suppression of Vice was the most famous book banning group in our history, but there were others.

Today book banning has become part of the culture war that has split our country. Though the progressive left has tried to censor books, mostly because of their racist or sexist contents, is it the MAGA right that has for the most part waged war against reading material, primarily in the public schools or libraries. Though “pornography” is still the battle cry for American book burners, their puritanism is informed by white supremacy and opposition to minority members having minds of their own. Their children must be protected, not only from smut but from Critical Race Theory (which most censors don’t know what it is), “socialism” (ditto) or trans girls playing sports.

Not surprisingly, many of the books targeted by modern-day book burners are books that deal favorably with LGBT people. In Texas Gov. Greg Abbott asked the Texas Education Agency “to investigate any criminal activity in our public schools involving the availability of pornography” and develop standards“to prevent the presence of pornography and other obscene content in Texas public schools.” Included in Abbott’s definition of “pornography” are “Gender Queer: A Memoir” and “In the Dream House: A Memoir,” titles that deal positively with the lives of LGBT people.

Also in Texas, State Senator Matt Krause, who coincidentally is running for attorney general, has started a campaign against books on racism and LGBT people in some school districts. Like his governor, Krause contacted the Texas Education Agency, asking if any public schools in the state carry any of 850 books in a list Krause provided. These are books that would make, in the words of a bill introduced in the Texas legislature, “an individual feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.” Among the books that might cause Texans discomfort are books about racial minorities and LGBT people.

Meanwhile, in Virginia the Spotsylvania County School Board responded to a “concerned” mother’s discovery of the queer book “33 Snowfish” in her teenager’s school library by voting to remove books with “sexually explicit” content from district school libraries. Not content with mere censorship, board members Rabih Abuismail and Kirk Twiggssuggested that the banned books be burned, as in the days of old.

“I think we should throw those books in a fire,” said Abuismail.

The Spotsylvania School Board’s decision caused a public backlash, which led the Board to reverse its decision by a vote of 5-2, board members Abuismail and Twiggs voting no.

In Tennessee, State Representative Bruce Griffey introduced a bill that would prevent public schools from using textbooks or material that mention LGBT people. And in Florida Jill Woolbright, who sits on the Flagler County School Board, complained about the presence of “All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto" by Black queer activist George M. Johnson, in some school libraries.

“Some child could be disturbed to read a book that they’re not ready for,” she said.

Here as in Texas, the children whom censors wish to protect are white, cisgender and straight, while the rest of us can go to hell, literally and figuratively. Those of us who love good books and freedom of expression have our work cut out for us, in the current climate of censorship and hatred.


Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and journalist. He has been an active member of South Florida's LGBT community for more than four decades and has served in various community organizations.


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