Monday numbers: As national conservatives target schools, a look at the new wave of book banning

By: - March 27, 2023 6:00 am

Source: PEN America

Source: PEN America

Last week the U.S. House passed HR 5 — a federal “Parents Bill of Rights”, part of a conservative wave of similarly named legislation that targets books and speech on topics like race, gender and sexuality in schools, and would compel teachers and school staff to out transgender children to their families.

Passed 213-208 along party-lines in the House, the bill isn’t expected to survive the Senate’s Democratic majority or to be signed into law by President Joe Biden. Indeed, had all House members been present for the vote, it’s quite possible the bill would not have passed there. But the heated, 48-hour debate over the bill mirrored similar debate over North Carolina’s Senate Bill 49.

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Banner Elk Republican, defended the bill as it made its journey from committee to the House floor, where she made a series of statements that parents, educators and LGBTQ advocates refuted as inaccurate or disingenuous.

“It does not force any teacher to reveal private conversations or any conversation about sexual orientation,” Foxx said in defending the bill Friday.

Gender identity and sexual orientation are different: The former deals with the gender by which someone identifies and the latter to whom someone is attracted. The bill might prompt teachers or administrators who do not understand that difference to out gay, lesbian or bisexual children to parents who may abuse them on that basis.

But critics are chiefly worried about transgender children, who would be outed under the bill. They could meet the fate of an ever-increasing number of LGBTQ youth who face bullying, homelessness or attempts to “deprogram” them, not just because of their sexual orientation but also their gender identity.

Similarly, Foxx said “this bill will not ban any books” and “we do not want to ban books.”

But the bill’s provisions mirror those passed in state legislatures and adopted by local school districts across the country that have led directly to parental book challenges, lawsuits and bans. The most common factor in the books banned: Depiction of LGBTQ protagonists or even prominent LGBTQ secondary characters and discussion of LGBTQ themes. Following closely, in terms of number of banned books, are those featuring prominent characters of color and examining themes of race and racism.

Last year PEN America, the free expression group that recently celebrated its 100th year, produced an exhaustive study of the state of book banning in the U.S.

Today, a by-the-numbers look at the new wave of book bans inspired by state and national legislation.

(Source: PEN America’s “Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools.”)

2,532 – Instances of individual books banned, according to PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans from July 2021 to June 2022. The bans affected 1,648 titles.

Source: PEN America

1,553 – Creators whose work was targeted, including 1,261 different authors, 290 illustrators and 18 translators

32 – Number of states that saw bans enacted

132 – Number of school districts within those states in which the bans occurred

5,049 – Number of schools within those districts, with a combined enrollment of nearly 4 million students

674 – Number of banned book titles (41%) explicitly addressing LGBTQ+ themes or with protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQ+

Source: PEN America

145 – Number that specifically included transgender characters or stories (9%)

659 – Number featuring protagonists or prominent secondary characters of color (40%)

338 – Number directly addressing issues of race and racism (21%)

357 – Number with sexual content of varying kinds, “including novels with some level of description of sexual experiences of teenagers, stories about teen pregnancy, sexual assault and abortion as well as informational books about puberty, sex, or relationships.” (22%)

161 – Number with themes related to rights and activism (10%)

141 – Number that are biography, autobiography, or memoir (9%). While 75% of the books banned were fiction, 24% were nonfiction and 1% were poetry.

64 – Number including characters and stories reflecting religious minorities, including Jewish and Muslim people (4%)

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Joe Killian
Joe Killian

Investigative Reporter Joe Killian's work examines government, politics and policy, with a special emphasis on higher education, LGBTQ issues and extremism.