Scroll To Top
News

Indiana’s school censorship law threatens a small bookstore's future

Brain Lair Books South Bend Indiana
Shutterstock; ©Google Maps Data 2024

A bookstore in South Bend may be shutting its doors after schools stopped shopping in the wake of new restrictive content law.

Cwnewser

An independent bookstore in Indiana is struggling to survive because of challenging conditions created by Republican lawmakers.

In the heart of South Bend, Brain Lair Books is a beloved sanctuary for readers seeking diverse and inclusive literature. Founded by Kathy Burnette in 2018, the independent bookstore has made a name for itself by promoting books that reflect the experiences of marginalized communities, particularly LGBTQ+ individuals and people of color. However, Burnette told The Advocate in an interview that recent waves of book bans and censorship in schools have put the bookstore’s future in jeopardy.

The impact of book bans

Burnette, a former classroom teacher and school librarian, opened Brain Lair Books to fill what she sees as a critical gap in representation. “I have a biracial daughter who wasn’t seeing herself in books,” she said. “I noticed what teachers were teaching and realized that if you don’t see yourself in literature, you have a hard time understanding your place in society.”

Related: The queerest education in America: How LGBTQ+ kids thrive at this Indiana school

She said Brain Lair Books quickly became a safe haven for young readers, especially LGBTQ+ youth. The store’s emphasis on inclusive literature built empathy and fostered understanding in the community. However, the increasing number of book bans by conservative leaders targeting diverse voices has severely impacted the bookstore, she explained.

Critics argue that the law, which can result in felony charges for school librarians found in violation, has led to preemptive self-censorship. Many schools have stopped purchasing books that could be seen as controversial, impacting suppliers like Brain Lair Books.

“All the bans on books really hurt us,” Burnette said. “Schools just stopped buying books from us because they didn’t want to have the appearance of supporting controversial literature.”

According to the Indiana Capital Chronicle, recent legislation in Indiana, House Enrolled Act 1447, has intensified public scrutiny of school library catalogs, leading to more challenges against what books students can access. The law, which took effect on January 1, mandates that school districts establish procedures for handling complaints about library materials deemed “obscene” or “harmful to minors.” Opponents of the law argue that it has a chilling effect because of its penalties.

A community in crisis

The financial repercussions of these book bans have been devastating. “We’re just hanging on by a thread,” Burnette admitted. “I have a threshold where I need to get out of the business if I don’t have this much money. We’re unfortunately at that point.”

She said that the store’s doors will likely close if things don’t change before the end of July.

The loss of school accounts, which once formed a significant part of Brain Lair Books’ revenue, has been tough to bear. Burnette’s store has always been vocal about its mission to uplift marginalized voices, making it a target for those pushing censorship.

“Schools just stopped buying books from us,” Burnette said. “They didn’t even want to have the appearance of supporting controversial literature. That hurt a lot, and I’ve been trying to recover from that. We have been doing a lot these past few months to get back, but it just hasn’t been enough.”

Fundraiser brings hope

Recently, the community came out for a fundraiser at River Montessori High School, another bastion of inclusivity in South Bend. The event featured Chasten Buttigieg, husband of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, the city’s former two-term mayor, who spoke passionately about supporting LGBTQ+ youth and communities.

Related: Chasten Buttigieg calls Republican politicians ‘bad actors’ during South Bend book event

River Montessori High School, which co-hosted the fundraiser, exemplifies the inclusive environment that Brain Lair Books champions. The school is a private micro-school where most teachers and nearly half the students identify as LGBTQ+. It provides all students with a safe and affirming space, promoting hands-on learning, self-direction, and collaborative freedom.

Eric Oglesbee, co-founder of River Montessori High School, highlighted Brain Lair Books’s impact on the community.

“It is hard to overestimate the value of Brain Lair Books to our local community and the world at large,” Oglesbee said. “What Kathy has created transcends the term ‘bookstore’; it is so much more than that. Brain Lair Books brings together marginalized voices into a chorus that can’t be ignored. The way she tirelessly brings author after author to our area and curates an ever-growing collection of diverse works in her shop helps everyone be seen and known.”

Oglesbee also acknowledged Burnette’s contributions to the school.

“On a personal level, I’m deeply grateful for Kathy’s work as an early board member at River Montessori High School. She, before many, saw what was possible and did everything she could to help us succeed. Losing Brain Lair would make the world a dimmer place.”

Burnette said she plans to launch a GoFundMe campaign and explore other fundraising opportunities to keep Brain Lair Books afloat.

As the store fights for survival, Burnette, Oglesbee, and Buttigieg’s message is clear: building empathy and supporting marginalized voices is more crucial than ever. With continued support from the community and allies, there is hope that this vital bookstore will remain a place of thriving inclusivity in South Bend for years to come.

Cwnewser
Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).