Amazon Censors Gay Books

Gay literature has a long history of censorship. Since the 1881 censorship of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, gay and lesbian content has been classified as obscene. As recently as 2001, the ACLU was asked to intervene when the Anaheim, California school board pulled The Lives of Notable Gay Men and Lesbians of the shelves of its libraries.

It is in light of this history that I read about Amazon's recent removal of sales ranks from books considered to have adult content (Thank you Alex Leo for the tip). Included in that list (and potentially the target of that label) are a number of important LGBT works: Giovanni's Room, Brokeback Mountain, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Rubyfruit Jungle, the list goes on.

None of these books have obscene or explicit content. In fact, many of these are the first books I read as a young adult that depicted characters with whom I could identify. Many of them are highly regarded pieces of fiction and some, like Giovanni's Room have a long history of grappling with censorship.

Losing a sales rank is not the same as burning existing copies or removing them from Amazon's site altogether. But sales ranks, in the age of the computer, are important. Books that sell well (like Brokeback Mountain) get special placement because of their popularity. The Rank also has significance for publishers and book stores. Imagine it as something like the New York Times' Bestseller List. Then imagine if the New York Times refused to list any books with gay content.

There would be an outcry.

In this case, an outcry of sorts did happen. At least those tech savvy enough to notice the rank change started looking into the policy and eventually an AP reporter got Amazon to state that the removal of LGBT books was a "computer glitch."

I don't believe that the program was a glitch. And history tells me I am likely correct in my suspicions.

That said, what progress we have made that a few stories on the internet can make a giant like Amazon apologize and change because their actions offend notions of equality and decency that include LGBT Americans.

It's not a big court win or a successful vote, but this little battle against Amazon is a sign of significant advancement in the fight for LGBT rights.