since 2004

From Glenn Beck to Your Backyard: Targeting Gay Books

In censorship, gender, intellectual freedom, LGBTQ issues, school libraries, youth on April 11, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Tomorrow, April 12th, a special review committee** in Mount Holly, NJ, will determine the fate of three books challenged for gay-themed content. One of them is my queer youth anthology, Revolutionary Voices. (The other two are: The Full Spectrum and Love & Sex). A local group has called the books pornography and wants them removed from Rancocas Valley Regional High School.

While the legal standard on pornography will not help their cause, school book challenges like these have been successful. It is my sincere hope these books won’t be removed — both on merit and legal precedent. Island Trees v. Pico held:

“Local school boards may not remove books from school libraries simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’”

Unfortunately, political and religious objections to LGBTQ-themed material are old news. But, what’s newsworthy here is who’s behind this challenge. As American Libraries reported, they are connected to Glenn Beck’s 912 Project.

Beck is known for his alarmist and inaccurate commentary. He admits that he doesn’t check his facts. With millions of viewers, however, he’s not to be underestimated.

Last Fall, Beck began attacking Kevin Jennings, former director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).* Picking up the torch, local chapters of Beck’s 912 Project are now requesting the removal of books that appear GLSEN’s book list. Mine included.

This particular chapter is in Burlington County, NJ. According to its MeetUp page, the chapter boasts 350 members (called “freedom’s foot soldiers”). If you have any doubt that their motives are political or religious, you might look at 912′s Principles. Number 2 is: “I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life.” A perfectly noble belief, but not a good reason to withhold well-reviewed books from the entire student population.

Luckily, community members and library media specialists at Rancocas Valley High have been proactive in defending students’ freedom to read. They are also warning other libraries to be on the lookout for challenges backed by other 912 chapters. Last week I wrote a letter to the Board offering “my full support to the media center staff who judiciously select materials based on local policy and reliable reviews.”

I wrote in my letter, as well, about the young people for whom these books have made a difference. In the decade since Revolutionary Voices was first published I have received hundreds of comments from readers. In almost every case, they convey how the book inspired them or taught them something new.

One letter came from Lewis W. in Ann Arbor, MI, who was 15 when he found the book in his teen center library. He wrote,

“My friends and I passed around a single copy of this book for weeks… I was fascinated and relieved that there were other people out there who shared elements of my identity. At the same time, it was really important for me as a pretty sheltered young person to see that I was by no means identical to other LGBTQ youth, that there was a wide diversity of voices within the community. This was an illuminating and strengthening part of the book for me.”

While book challenges can become a battle of the most vocal, I hope the Board takes perspectives like Lewis’ into account. Queer students may not feel safe speaking up when LGBTQ books are challenged. But, they certainly deserve a chance to discover the “diversity of voices” that make balanced library collections so crucial for the health of our communities and democracy.

**This is corrected information. I previously wrote that the local Board of Education was meeting Monday. The Board will not meet until late April. This special committee is tasked with making a recommendation to the Board.

* Side note: There’s been criticism of the content of specific GLSEN safe sex workshops that I will not get into here. If you want to look it up, search for “fistgate,” or better yet “kevin jennings and revolutionary voices.” You can see where Beck got his information from.

  1. [...] “Queer students may not feel safe speaking up when LGBTQ books are challenged,” said Sonnie. “But, they certainly deserve a chance to discover the ‘diversity of voices’ that make balanced library collections so crucial for the health of our communities and democracy.” [...]

  2. Beck is not to be taken seriously which I am sure you have surmised. His ratings are also taking a cliff dive as of late, but his rhetoric is still dangerous and ignorant.

  3. I live in Mount Holly, NJ. I have been too apathetic to have known what was going on in my back yard. I don’t have children of school- age so that may be my flimsy excuse. However, This really bothers me. I went to the Burlington County Library and found the book had been pulled. At my insistence, they reluctantly made an ILL (inter-library loan) for me. I told them I wanted to read the book for myself and reach my own conclusions. I am waiting for the call to pick up the book. If there is no “child pornography” as Ms. Gail Sweet, the librarian who pulled it contends, I want to know if there is anything I can do to restore it.

    • Valentin. Applaude to you for using ILL to obtain the book and read it yourself. Please consider documenting the “reluctance” you mention in making the ILL request. And, of course, share you own judgments about the book here once you read it!

      I am unsure what the local process would be for restoring the book, but you could always contact the New Jersey ACLU. NJ-ACLU filed the open records request allowing us to learn more about the removal at Burlington County Library System.

      • I have downloaded the correspondence between Beverly Marinelli of Glen Beck’s 9/12 organization, Gail Sweet, BurlCo Library director, and Andy Woodworth, Librarian at Bordentown. I took the downloaded email copy to the library and spoke with some young people at the check-out desk. They seemed as disappointed as me about having the book pulled and referred me to the reference desk. The lady that helped me seemed surprised at seeing the emails and asked where I got them. I told her they were all over The Internet. She then quietly proceeded with the ILL. Another lady came by, Ms Sweet I presume, and asked “Are they starting that ruckus all over again?” I told her I was just looking for information because I care about my community. She Said “I am also part of the community”. We left it at that and the first lady completed my ILL request which will take several weeks. I will let you know what I think of your book after I read it in a few weeks.

  4. [...] promised, here are the slides from my brief presentation on the Revolutionary Voices book challenge in New Jersey. (Delivered at the California Library Association conference, Sacramento, CA, Nov [...]

  5. Revolutionary Voices Reminds me very much of Ralph Ellison’s “The Invisible Man” and Eldridge Cleaver’s “Soul On Ice”. It is not the same format but the same message to the unaware: A clear image of the struggle for identification. It is “literary jazz”, to use the words of Ralph Ellison. I am amazed at the talent of these young people. I must admit I now have a better understanding of gay and lesbian lifestyles.
    I believe there is no pornography in the book as the right-wing folks that want the book removed claim. It does not fit the definition for pornography in US CODE > TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 110 > § 2256 or US SUPREME COURT, MILLER V. CALIFORNIA, 413 U.S. 15, 93 S. Ct. 2607, 37 L. Ed. 2d 419 (1973). This book should not have been removed. I am going to try to get the NJ ACLU involved in this. I hope I can get results.

  6. [...] “Queer students may not feel safe speaking up when LGBTQ books are challenged,” said Sonnie. “But, they certainly deserve a chance to discover the ‘diversity of voices’ that make balanced library collections so crucial for the health of our communities and democracy.” [...]

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