America’s most-banned book is a ‘heartfelt’ graphic novel about being non-binary and asexual

A young person reads a book in a school library like setting

Almost half of books banned in US schools in the past year contained LGBTQ+ themes or characters.

A new report has detailed the most-banned books of the 2021-22 school year, finding more than 2,532 instances of individual book bans.

Maia Kobabe’s memoir Gender Queer, about growing up as non-binary and asexual, was the most-banned book, having been targeted by 41 school districts between July 2021 and June 2022.

“This heartfelt graphic memoir relates, with sometimes painful honesty, the experience of growing up non-gender-conforming,” said Publishers Weekly of the title.

In second was another queer memoir, All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M Johnson. Other targeted LGBTQ+ titles included Melissa by Alex Gino and Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin were among the most banned books containing LGBTQ+ themes.

The list is an update to one released in April, which covered the first nine months of the school year.

The research found 41 per cent of books were banned for simply featuring people who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community or explicitly addressing queer themes. This included a specific subset of titles for trans characters or stories – amounting to 145 titles or nine per cent of the books banned in the past school year. 

Many books (40 per cent) that were targeted contained a character of colour, and a further 21 per cent directly addressed issues of race and racism.

PEN America said the “dramatic expansion of book banning” is the result of the “proliferation of organised efforts to advocate for book removals”. 

This impacted 1,648 individual titles at 5,049 schools serving approximately 4 million students in the US. 

A group of students holding pro LGBTQ+ signs protest outside their school

PEN America found at least 50 groups actively pushing for book bans in US schools. However, many students have pushed back against anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment. (Getty)

The report identified at least 50 groups actively pushing for book bans in US schools – with the vast majority, 73 per cent, appearing to have formed since 2021. 

These parent and community groups played a role in at least half of the book bans enacted in the 2021-2022 school year, according to PEN America. 

Suzanne Nossel, chief executive officer of PEN America, said the report demonstrates the recent wave of bans “represents a coordinated campaign to banish books” waged by “sophisticated, ideological and well-resourced advocacy organisations”. 

“This censorious movement is turning our public schools into political battlegrounds, driving wedges within communities, forcing teachers and librarians from their jobs and casting a chill over the spirit of open inquiry and intellectual freedom that underpin a flourishing democracy,” Nossel said. 

PEN America estimated at least 40 per cent of bans (1,109 bans in total) are connected to proposed or enacted legislation or pressure from politicians to restrict teaching of certain topics in the US. 

A person holds a sign reading 'we are permanent' during a protest against Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' law

Countless LGBTQ+ groups and advocates denounced the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation with Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law targeting inclusive education. (Getty)

Texas banned more books from school libraries than any other state, the data revealed, with 801 books taken off the shelves across 22 school districts. 

Last October, Republican state representative Matt Krause made a concerted effort to crack down on inclusive literature in Texas. 

Krause created a list of 850 books on subjects ranging from gender identity and sexuality to racism that could “make students feel discomfort”. He demanded school districts investigate and report on which titles they had in libraries and classrooms. 

The move came as trans youth and their families were targeted by Republican governor Gregg Abbott and other conservative politicians in the state. Countless LGBTQ+ groups and advocates have denounced the intrusive “child abuse” investigations into the supportive families of trans kids as ordered by Abbott. 

The Republican governor’s effort to erase trans kids led to a fierce legal battle that made it to the state’s Supreme Court

A Texas judge expanded a statewide injunction on 16 September to protect members of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group PFLAG Inc from harmful investigations by state officials. The group has more than 600 members in Texas so the move represented a huge legal win for families of LGBTQ+ youth. 

Unsurprisingly, Florida only lagged slightly behind Texas, with 566 bans across 21 school districts. Virulently anti-LGBTQ+ governor Ron DeSantis signed the state’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation into law in March, directly targeting LGBTQ+ education in Florida schools. 

“This rapidly accelerating movement has resulted in more and more students losing access to literature that equips them to meet the challenges and complexities of democratic citizenship,” said Jonathan Friedman, a lead author of the PEN America report. 

Friedman continued: “The work of groups organising and advocating to ban books in schools is especially harmful to students from historically marginalised backgrounds, who are forced to experience stories that validate their lives vanishing from classrooms and library shelves.”

 

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