LGBTQ+ book bans are ‘actively harming children’, authors warn: ‘Echoes of Nazi book burnings’

A graphic composed of pictures of authors Authors Fox Fisher and Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdótti, shelves of books and a tint in the colours of the trans Pride flag

Attacks on LGBTQ books are spreading from the US to Ireland, and some fear the UK could be next. Authors Fox Fisher and Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir explain why it’s so “disturbing”.

Right-wing hysteria about LGBTQ+ books for young people is beginning to spread from the US, where Republicans have long sought to have queer titles banned from bookshelves.

In Ireland, libraries are currently facing intimidation and abuse over LGBTQ+ books for teens.

Staff were even given instructions on how to secure buildings in the face of protests seeking to remove “offensive” books, including This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson, Yay! You’re Gay! Now What? by Riyadh Khalaf and Trans Teen Survival Guide by Fox and Owl Fisher.

Each book is different, but they all have something in common: they all strive to provide knowledge and a sense of belonging to the next generation of queer kids. For some parents, lawmakers and far-right provocateurs, that’s a step too far.

Fox Fisher, who co-wrote Trans Teen Survival Guide with their partner Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir, also known as Owl Fisher, finds it all “deeply disturbing”.

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Fisher grew up in the era of Section 28, which banned libraries and schools from even acknowledging the existence of LGBTQ+ identities, let alone providing books that illustrate queerness.

“I know firsthand how vital education and support are for the LGBTQIA+ community,” Fisher tells PinkNews.

“Growing up during a time when being different was deemed shameful and perverse, I struggled with a lack of understanding and vocabulary regarding my identity.

Fox Fisher standing against a pink background.
Fox Fisher. (Supplied)

“If you don’t see anyone like you growing up, or only see negative depictions, you’re going to internalise that guilt and shame, and suppress who you are. That’s hugely damaging to people’s mental health.”

There are fears that what’s happening in the US and Ireland will soon reach the UK, where anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric currently dominates politics and the media.

November will mark 20 years since Section 28 was abolished in England and Wales (Scotland repealed the law three years earlier, in 2000), but many fear society is creeping back to how it used to be.

Fisher goes further back in history, to draw an even starker comparison.

“Banning books with LGBTQIA+ themes echoes the actions of the Nazi book burners, who destroyed significant texts 90 years ago,” he adds.

Why now?

Jónsdóttir has personally noticed “a concerted effort to limit the freedom and visibility of LGBT+ across the world” in recent years.

In the UK, a reported rise in hate crime has come hand in hand with a right-wing obsession with curtailing trans rights. In the US, LGBTQ+ books bans are being pushed by Republican lawmakers, who also want to prohibit drag performances, curtail trans healthcare, and, some fear, undo marriage equality.

Jónsdóttir says “many countries are suffering a backlash with the rise of far-right sentiments and political parties”. They believe it is a reaction to increased LGBTQ+ visibility.

Owl Fisher posing with a pink flower in their hair.
Owl Fisher, AKA Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir. (Supplied)

“I definitely think that as our visibility and acceptance has increased, those that don’t want LGBT+ [people] to be visible and happy have also become louder,” Jónsdóttir says.

“In the end all our book does is give people information and affirmations, and the fact this causes so much fear with certain people shows us that we truly have a long way to go in order for everybody to be able to live freely and be themselves.”

Far-right actors commonly lie about LGBTQ+ books, saying that they’re “pornographic”, while authors are regularly accused on social media of “grooming” children. 

“It’s the same old story that has never been true,” Jónsdóttir says. “My brother struggles to get his kid to eat vegetables. How on earth would he convince someone to be LGBT+ when they’re not? It just doesn’t make any sense, because surely we’d all be cis and straight if it was about influence, as that’s what pushed upon us literally everywhere. Why would people make life harder for themselves if they didn’t have to?”

Fisher echoes that – they say their book simply offers “valuable information and affirmations that can greatly benefit people exploring their gender”.

“This situation clearly demonstrates that we have a considerable distance to cover in establishing a society where everyone can freely be themselves without the looming threats of discrimination or censorship.”

Fox Fisher standing against a blue background.
Fox Fisher. (Supplied)

The end result of book bans and censorship is that LGBTQ+ young people will be more likely to suppress who they really are, Fisher adds.

“Hiding and suppressing who you are is absolutely soul destroying, and it’s incredibly backwards and ironic that those wanting to ban these books do so under the pretence of wanting to protect children, when in fact they are actively harming children and forcing them to hide away in shame and fear.”

Fisher wants the public to understand that campaigns to ban LGBTQ+ books are rooted in a desire to limit people’s freedoms. That should never be accepted.

“The biggest fight we can do is to share our love, and our lives. Make more books, share them with those around us. Gift them to those that need them. If they take them away from libraries we create our own, because they can never take away who we are, no matter what they censor or legislate against.

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