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Posts Tagged ‘LGBTQ’

The Censor’s New Clothes, CLA Presentation

In censorship, education, intellectual freedom, LGBTQ issues, public libraries, school libraries, youth on December 4, 2010 at 1:09 pm

As 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 14, 2010).

Library law expert Mary Minow and school librarian Jill Sonnenberg joined me for a great overview on the ideological forces driving intellectual freedom challenges in libraries (from LGBTQ-themed books to Vamos a Cuba to Internet filtering). Mary clarified the meaning of Island Trees v. Pico and legal differences between public–school material challenges.

Jill talked about the ways filters are changing and limiting student’s ways of learning, particularly when it comes to active learning methods using content creation, critical inquiry and collaboration. She shared,

While most of us out there in the trenches will fight to keep important books on our shelves…[w]e are not fighting for students’ rights to create and collaborate…We stop at no when our districts or tech directors or network administrators summarily or arbitrarily ban blogs and wikis and social networking and media sharing and yes, even digital storytelling.” — Joyce Valenza (10/5/08, “2.0 is an Intellectual Freedom Issue”)

Jill left us with an excellent list of practical background reading, especially Doug Johnson.

Censored Book Contributors

A Message to LGBTQ Youth

I talked about the recent challenge against Revolutionary Voices in the context of a religious and political campaign against Obama appointee Kevin Jennings, while focusing on some of the learning and positive outcomes the challenge created. Most notably: both sides harnessed their ability to get the word out online and, therefore, opened doors for a (somewhat) transparent public debate. We need more of this.

I recently heard second-hand that another NJ library is reconsidering The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The school apparently discussed making the decision quietly behind closed doors. Not every challenge results in a book removal, but transparency about challenges provides a crucial pulse-check and an invaluable learning opportunity for anyone engaging in the debate — especially local students.

On a related note: NJ school librarian Dee Venuto provides excellent documentation on the Revolutionary Voices challenge on Prezi.


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.

Amazon Censors LGBTQ Lit

In activism, censorship, information access, LGBTQ issues, libraries on April 13, 2009 at 2:12 pm

banned-revolutionaryDuring the last few days, thousands of LGBTQ titles were demoted by including my young adult anthology Revolutionary Voices.

The mega-store removed rankings from titles deemed “adult” — seemingly as part of a sweeping effort to remove erotica. It is unclear what “offending” keywords they used to strip books of their findability but the impacts were extensive. As of tonight many of the rankings have reappeared after massive public response. (Read background here).

But the issue is not resolved. Amazon originally claimed this was a “glitch” in its filtering effort. Today, confirmed that this is untrue, but a result of decentralized tagging for which “no human is responsible.” Regardless, we should keep pressure to find out how Amazon is filtering material, how decisions are made, and what will be done to prevent such “glitches” in intellectual freedom in the future. Let the letter writing continue! Amazon should not get off the hook for this one, and they are not the only major company blocking access to books. Content filtering is an ongoing issue among libraries, bookstores, schools, internet-service-providers, et al.

For Amazon’s contact info see this post from Sunday’s Daily Kos.

UPDATE from Monday 3/13: It’s true that a hacker claimed responsibility. Many are questioning the truth of that explanation as well. No matter the outcome, this incident still illustrates the general need for more transparency among information sellers/providers re: their search functionality and filters. (Last year, the medical database POPLINE blocked all searches for the word “abortion.”)

UPDATE 2: Decent article summing up controversy in New York Times.

For those in the San Jose area, there is a city council meeting on the issue of filtering in the public library next week:
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
7:00 PM to 10:00 PM [Evening session]
Location: Wing Public Rooms Council Chambers
200 E Santa Clara Street
San Jose, CA

Call for Submissions: Gender & Sexuality in Librarianship

In critical pedagogy, gender, LGBTQ issues, libraries, library profession on December 6, 2008 at 11:42 am

Library Juice Press seeks book proposals and manuscripts for a new series, Gender and Sexuality in Librarianship, edited by Emily Drabinski. This series will publish works from both practical and theoretical perspectives that critically engage issues in the LIS field related to gender and sexual difference. Potential subjects include:

  • Queer and feminist approaches to traditional library topics including classification, pedagogy, collection development
  • Works that address gender and sexuality issues in conjunction with other articulations of difference including race, class, nationality, etc.
  • Practical approaches to developing community-based GLBTQ collections
  • Materials addressing library needs of specific populations, e.g., GLBTQ youth, elders, etc.
  • Workplace issues, e.g., ‘coming out’ at work
  • Historical perspectives on GLBTQ and women’s issues in the library
  • Works that bring library issues into conversation with contemporary theoretical debates in feminist, queer, and gender studies

Please submit queries, proposals, and manuscripts to Emily Drabinski,

Reposted from Library Juice, published November 26, 2008.

RadReads: Revolutionary Voices

In censorship, LGBTQ issues, youth on November 15, 2008 at 7:51 pm

It’s a dubious honor to be the author/editor of a banned book. My first book, Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology (Alyson, 2000), was banned by the Texas Youth Commission in 2004. According to TYC the book is “inconsistent with the educational goals of the state.” Makes you wonder what these goals are when a book written to break the isolation many young people feel is considered too dangerous.

Contributor Margot Kelley Rodriguez writes in the book’s introduction:

As artists, we come together in this book to share ourselves with each other and with you….Included here are stories of loss (how religion can force a grandmother to turn her back on her granddaughter), stories of rage (against our parents, against hunger, against the state of things), and stories of love (about the awesome power of desire, about the beauty of touch). Throughout these testimonials runs a thread of hope; hope in love, hope that by writing this down we can help some other queer kid out there. We know the answer to June Jordan’s question, “Where Is the Love?” The answer is us. “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

We are still the ones. Young and old.

The ACLU of Texas reported on this and other removals in their invaluable annual edition of Free People Read Freely.