More than 1,000 books have been banned over the past year in schools across the country, and a significant number of those books were related to race and the LGBTQ community.
A new report released Thursday by literary and free expression group PEN America tracked book bans in public schools nationwide from July 2021 to March of this year. An index by the group counted 1,586 book bans targeting 1,145 books in dozens of school districts across 26 states.
The report comes amid Republican-led efforts to ban books from school libraries around the nation.
PEN America condemned the bans, noting an “alarming spike in censorship” that is “unparalleled in its intensity and frequency and represents a serious threat to free expression and students’ First Amendment rights.”
The report found that:
86 school districts had banned books, representing 2,899 schools with more than 2 million enrolled students.
State by state, Texas had the most school book bans (713), followed by Pennsylvania (456), Florida (204), Oklahoma (43), Kansas (30) and Tennessee (16).
467 banned books (or 41% of all the banned books) had main characters or prominent secondary characters who were people of color.
247 banned books (22%) addressed race or racism directly.
379 banned books (33%) addressed LGBTQ issues or had main or secondary characters who were LGBTQ.
42 banned books were children’s books, including the biographies of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Bridges, Cesar Chavez, Sonia Sotomayor, Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai.
“Book challenges in American schools are nothing new, but this type of data has never been tallied and quite frankly the results are shocking,” Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s free expression and education program and lead author of the report, said in a release.
Friedman noted that recent school book bans most often targeted books about racial and LGBTQ identities, and challenges to books by nonwhite male authors are “at the highest rates we’ve ever seen.”
“We are witnessing the erasure of topics that only recently represented progress toward inclusion,” he said.
The top three most banned books, per the index, are about the LGBTQ community: “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe is banned in 30 districts; “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson is banned in 21 districts; and “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison is banned in 16 districts. “Out of Darkness,” a novel by Ashley Hope Pérez about a relationship between a Black teen boy and a Mexican American girl in 1930s Texas, is also banned in 16 districts. And “The Bluest Eye,” a book about racism in the 1940s by Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, is the fifth most banned book, forbidden in 12 districts.
The report noted that while book bans in public schools have existed throughout U.S. history, the breadth of such efforts has “expanded rapidly” in the last year, both in the number of books banned and “the intense focus on books that relate to communities of color and LGBTQ+ subjects.”
Books have been removed from school libraries and classrooms as a result of challenges from parents, administrators and board members, and even in response to laws passed by Republican legislators.
Much of the recent push to ban certain books stems from Republican-led bills seeking to prevent students from learning about white supremacy and racism, under the pretense of purging so-called “critical race theory” from classrooms.
While such laws don’t all explicitly mention critical race theory — a college-level academic discipline focused on how racism is embedded in the country’s legal, political and social institutions — they are all written with similar language meant to stifle instruction about racism, privilege and white supremacy.