After a tumultuous end to another school year, summer has arrived and ushered in its annual PRIDE month of June, bringing rainbow flags, signs of inclusivity and celebrations across Colorado.
In the United States and in many countries around the world, June is synonymous with LGBTQ+ pride and awareness. Despite this, parents at a local school have begun circulating a petition throughout the Greeley area, calling for the removal of several LGBTQ+-themed books from college school libraries.
The petition, written by university school parents and guardians and community members, urges that the following books be banned: The Hate U Give, The Bluest Eyes, Lawn Boy, Gender Queer and All Boys Aren’t Blue. They claim that said books are “pornographic” (and) create additional vulnerability for LGBTQ students and are not appropriate teaching materials for all levels of a K-12 school.”
As a former University High School student and educator, I was compelled to research the petition, its demands, and the books themselves.
What I found was disturbing. Each book in question contained stories from people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, women, or marginalized members of society.
Each was written with themes and lexicon suitable for middle or high school students. Most have received national awards and notable recognition from the American Library Association.
After hours of investigation, one question remained: what was the real reason these books were banned?
Seeing a better understanding of the issue, I reached out directly to those this decision would affect the most: members of the LGBTQ+ community, and specifically college graduates.
Literature representing LGBTQ+ culture is “crucial in schools,” says 2008 University graduate Georgia Tournai: “Growing up as a queer kid and having access to books and resources outside of home, both in libraries and at school, was vital to my mental health. . Having the support of resources provided by my school and various teachers has literally kept me alive. Schools, in particular, have a responsibility to be an inclusive and safe space for all of their students.
Another 2008 alumnus, Danny Bristoll, said: “I am particularly upset that the drive to remove these books is presented as a way to prevent ‘greater vulnerability for LGBTQ students’. Literature that describes our experiences as LGBTQ+ individuals and recognizes the value of exploring our own identities, visceral and fumbling as they so often are, is essential in a world that offers us so little guidance otherwise. Sometimes these stories are dark or painful to read, but provide an invaluable window through which to see the realities of being queer in our world.
“By removing this literature, academic schools are sending a clear message to their most vulnerable members that they don’t believe in the value of telling their stories fairly and unbiasedly.”
So, I have to ask: what is the real reason for banning these books? Is literature that represents a wider range of identities and experiences such a terrible thing, even if we ourselves don’t understand it?
If we ban a book solely on our own perception of its value, we are setting a dangerous precedent by censoring some of the world’s most influential and thought-provoking literature. In doing so, we threaten education itself, diminishing opportunities for inclusive discussions, dynamic identity growth, and equitable opportunities for students of all kinds by depriving them of the stories in which they might see themselves.
If you agree that banning these books is harmful to students, make your voice heard by contacting University Schools at (970) 506-7000.
— Kaitlyn Dinner is a college graduate and educator in Colorado