Black queer author’s mother overturns book ban with epic speech defending LGBTQ+ stories

Cover of All Boys Aren't Blue - a painting of a young George in a flower crown - and a black and white photo of the author as an adult

All Boys Aren’t Blue, by Black queer author George M. Johnson, is one of the most banned books in US history.

Part-memoir and part-essay-collection, the 2020 book recounts Johnson’s experience of growing up as a young, queer Black person in New Jersey. It’s aimed at young adults, with the hope of educating them on consent, sex and sexual abuse.

Despite its life-saving potential, the book is currently banned by almost 30 school districts, who incorrectly refer to it as obscene or pornography.

As is now par for the course, the book faced another ban last week, along with five other LGBTQ+ books – this time by a public library near Johnson’s home.

Upon learning that All Boys Aren’t Blue was facing another unjust ban, 37-year-old Johnson was asked by a local campaign group to attend the trustees’ deliberation meeting and attempt to change the members’ minds.

Unavailable due to a book reading in Texas, Johnson asked their mother Kaye, 65, and their aunts, Stephanie, 51, and Sarah, 57, to go along instead. 

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In a defiant and passionate display of solidarity, Kaye stood up to read the words Johnson had written in defence of their book, while their aunts stood behind her holding up prints of the book’s cover.

“My book details my first sexual experiences. Teens need to know about agency, consent and that they have a right to say no and wait until they are ready,” Kaye read.

“People wonder why the rate of sexual assault and abuse is so high in college and beyond. Look no further than the fact you’ve removed all texts teaching young adults about it.” 

Referring to the hundreds of other books banned across the US, including This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson, Kaye continued: “Our books are not introducing teens to hard topics, they are simply the resource needed so they can understand the hard topics that they are living out day to day.

“As a Black queer person, I know what it’s like to read books that don’t tell my story. So, in this hunt to protect teens, does it ever cross your mind that removing or restricting this life-saving story for LGBTQ students only harms them more, or how removing this life-saving story for Black teens harms them? Or do you not care?”

All Boys Aren't Blue by George M Johnson.
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M Johnson.

Continuing to read her child’s words with vigour, Kaye said: “If you don’t want your child to read it, that’s fine, you have every right to allow your child not to read, but you don’t get to trample on the rights of parents like my mother and my aunts.” 

Before she could even finish her final sentence, the room erupted into rapturous cheers and applause. 

Following Kaye’s reading, the trustees voted unanimously to keep all six queer books on the library shelves.

Speaking to Buzzfeed News following the ruling, Johnson expressed that, while they were sad to have to drag their family into the nonsensical debate, they were “emotional” over the support received.

“On a micro level, it just feels good to have that type of support in my life and know that I always have that,” they said. “But on a macro level, it was a beautiful thing for the queer community to see what it looks like when a family shows up for you.”

The vast majority of banned books in the US address queer or race issues.

On average, four in every 10 books banned in the US, are blacklisted because they feature LGBTQ+ people or include queer themes.

“I think it speaks volumes, though, like a Black book and queer book potentially being at the top of the most challenged list in the United States,” the author continued.

“It speaks volumes about the particular hatred of two groups in this country and how that hatred came out at the intersection of a person.”