Over the past several months, school districts and libraries around the country have been grappling with increased pressure from parents over what knowledge students have access to. Many of these battles have sparked around books that center on sexuality, gender identity, and race. One that's gotten attention over its honest and real telling is All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson. Over the past few months, Blue has been reportedly removed from libraries and schools in eight states.
The young adult book, which Johnson declares as a memoir-manifesto, details their experiences as a young Black queer person navigating the world as they grew up. It is composed as a series of essays.
Johnson's work has been well-received and Gabrielle Union-Wade's production company has optioned the memoir for a series with Sony Pictures TV. It was given a visual reading at Newfest with Dyllon Burnside attached earlier this year. It has also made bestseller lists.
But, even though it was published back in 2020, over the last few months a backlash against the book has materialized.
Now, libraries in eight states including Iowa, Florida, and Missouri, have removedAll Boys Aren't Blue. In Missouri, Shawnee Mission School District even changed their process of logging complaints after multiple parents complained to the school board at a meeting.
"We knew that at some point, once the pandemic shifted [schools] to more in-class [instruction], where parents could get a hold on what was going on in the curriculum and the reading list and everything that this moment would probably come," Johnson tells The Advocate. "A book isn't held that long before people start to make these particular types of attempts at it. So yeah, it is interesting."
The former journalist says that they had written bits of the story throughout their career, but it all came to a point when young queer deaths kept appearing in the news like the killings of Giovanni Melton and Gabriel Fernandez.
"There were like these incidents that kept happening specifically around queer youth," Johnson explains. "Then a lot of statistics were coming out about how LGBTQ homelessness is on the rise and how LGBTQ youth suicide ideation, as well as rates, were on the rise and all of those things compounded, it kind of inspired me in a way to know that it was time to really put my story out there."
Johnson adds that they also released the book with young adults in mind, noting that memoir is a genre usually targeted to adults only.
"I really wanted to give the youth, ... specifically black, queer youth and LGBTQ youth a resource guide," they say. Johnson wanted the book to show youth that, one, they could feel seen, and, two, they could know that someone else also experienced what they were going through.
The book is also for parents and guardians and teachers to better understand the young queer experience. Johnson tells The Advocate a catalyst behind the project was to change the narrative over living a queer life and to give youth a story where they could see happiness in their experience and people supporting them.
For those who believe the topics covered by Johnson are too intense, Johnson says, "If a topic that you deem as heavy can happen to a child, then it is not too heavy to discuss with that child."
They continue: "Denying kids sex education, denying kids understanding around consent, understanding around topics of racism, topics of gender and topics of identity, it does nothing to help the child because the child still has to exist in a world where all of those things exist."
"My one book is not what is going to harm your child. It is the fact that you are not allowing them to understand the world that they live in that is ultimately going to harm your child."
They specifically mention that those trying to ban the book are focusing on a specific instance in the memoir about Johnson's first consensual sexual experience. "I was 20 years old, but they're specifically leaving my age out of every conservative article abou that chapter." They said it's just another way of people altering what the book is about.
The Shawnee Mission School District still has the book in its library collections at several high schools but does not have it as a part of any district-approved curriculum and does not have it in any elementary school libraries. Indian River County School District in Florida banned it from high school libraries. It was also pulled from four high schools in Missouri. Johnson says that it has also been pulled from schools in Texas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Kansas.
Johnson says that people trying to block their book can't deny their experience or existence.
"At the end of the day, they do not have the right to deny me my truth; they don't have the right to deny anyone their true story. And you know whether I'm here to tell it or not, my book isn't going anywhere," Johnson says. "And there will be more books like [All Boys Aren't Blue] coming out, because there will be more stories that need to be told."