Scroll To Top

'Parents' Rights' movements forget families have the right to read LGBTQ+ books

often banned LGBTQ books explaining queer culture life
Nikki Aye for The Advocate

As book bans targeting LGBTQ+ and diverse communities rise in the United States, there is an urgent call for advocacy to keep books that promote understanding, empathy, and self-acceptance accessible.

Efforts to ban books in the United States continued to rise last year, according to the American Library Association. Banning books is the most pervasive form of censorship in the United States. Recent bans targeting LGBTQ+ individuals and all people of color, while not a new phenomenon, fundamentally communicate a harmful message that certain people and books are not welcome. We also watch with alarm the rise in extremist rhetoric and the growing number of anti-LGBTQ bills making their way into state legislatures.

Targeting LGBTQ individuals is an attempt to further stigmatize and ultimately “invisibilize” them while curtailing their rights. These tactics range from direct harms like harassment and bullying to indirect ones like banning books that celebrate and affirm all diversity of people, including sexual orientations and gender identities.

Yet, books are essential for promoting growth, development, and well-being, including self-acceptance. They also foster creativity and make us feel less isolated and alone. Books also help us understand those around us—they promote empathy. Learning about other people’s experiences reduces stereotypes and allows us to recognize that difference isn’t dangerous—it’s an expected part of life.

We have severe concerns that banning books about LGBTQ+ individuals reinforces stigma against this population. Stigma is connected to hostile environments and discriminatory behaviors such as bullying, hate crimes, and bias-related incidents. Research shows that LGBTQ youth suffer disproportionately from mental distress due to victimization compared to their cisgender and heterosexual counterparts. Banning books about LGBTQ people will likely compound the stigma they already face and invisiblize them further.

Rather than banning books, leave it up to parents and guardians to have critical conversations with children. School boards should not be making decisions to ban books, which, in essence, restricts information that parents can use to inform their conversations with their children. Books can be written at developmentally appropriate levels for children of various ages with language that can help them understand themselves and the world around them.

Parents, elected officials, and school systems should advocate for diversity and difference by encouraging exposure to books that enable youth to learn about different identities, cultures, and experiences. Teachers should demand students gain exposure to books that provide knowledge about individuals who are not only like them as an integral part of learning.

School social workers and other mental health professionals should educate parents, teachers, administrators, and school community members about human development and the importance of using books to foster healthy growth, encourage positive identity formation, and promote empathy.

Together, we can all act to keep vulnerable youth visible and supported by:

  • Showing up for them and their access to books and school and library board meetings;
  • Demanding proper constitutional and expert review of any challenged material;
  • Buying banned books;
  • Organizing local forums to discuss topics like bullying and other violence encouraged by stigma, prejudice, and discrimination;
  • Calling elected representatives to demand protection and awareness.

The safety and success of our schools and communities depend on our actions against stigmatizing and invisibilizing youth. They need to know we see them and will support their right to be themselves.

Edward J. Alessi, Ph.D., LCSW is an Associate Professor at Rutgers University School of Social Work. His research examines stress, trauma, and resilience among LGBTQ populations.

Jacquelynn Duron, Ph.D., LCSW is an Associate Professor at Rutgers University School of Social Work. Her research examines trauma, adversity, and resilience among children, youth, and families.

Gabriel Robles, Ph.D., LCSW is an Assistant Professor at Rutgers University School of Social Work and Chancellor's Scholar for Inclusive Excellence in Sexual and Gender Minority Health. His research focuses on how institutions can support the health and well-being of racialized LGBTQ populations.

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

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Edward J. Alessi

Jacquelynn Duron

Gabriel Robles