Stories have the ability to transform our lives. Whether it is by transporting us to faraway places or connecting us with characters we can see ourselves in, the power of storytelling is profound, especially for kids. The stories we are told as children help us see the world through a new lens and, in doing so, find where we fit within it. This is especially true for LGBTQ+ youth, who may often feel alone, lost or even invisible.
At a time when sharing stories in which LGBTQ+ youth can see themselves and their families represented is more important than ever, extremist politicians are attempting to ban LGBTQ+-themed books and curriculum from the classroom. They do not just want to remove our stories, but also prevent us from creating new ones. In celebration of Banned Books Week, HRC partnered with Drag Story Hour to provide families everywhere with an opportunity to celebrate LGBTQ+ stories and spread a message of inclusivity and acceptance for all.
A Wave of Censorship
We have witnessed a coordinated attack by extremist politicians to try and erase the very existence of LGBTQ+ people from classrooms nationwide. In states across the country, lawmakers are introducing bills that censor curriculum discussing LGBTQ+ identities, stripping schools of resources intended to support queer youth and trying to make LGBTQ+-themed books into a political wedge. This legislation is trying to create a non-issue into a means by which to discriminate and prevent LGBTQ+ youth from accessing the support they need.
This past July, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay or Trans Bill”, touted by anti-equality governor Ron DeSantis, went into effect statewide. This bill has caused confusion across school districts and forced many students, teachers and staff back into the closet. Even more troubling, many states are now trying to replicate this dangerous legislation and pass it within their own statehouses.
The effort to ban books with themes of inclusivity, queerness and acceptance is not happening through legislation alone. Some cities are threatening to defund public libraries that carry books they deem “problematic,” when in reality, these books largely spotlight marginalized communities and stories intended to educate students.
Celebrating Banned Books Week Through Drag
As politicians focus their efforts on censoring LGBTQ+ curriculum in the classroom, we have also seen an attack on a pillar of queer culture: Drag. Drag artists have been the target of protests and threats in the last few months, with many community-based events witnessing right-wing extremists trying to ban them all together. This not only harms communities, but also sends the message to LGBTQ+ youth that celebrating one’s queerness through art is something to look down upon.
In the face of these attacks against our community and very existence, HRC partnered with Drag Story Hour to celebrate Banned Books Week, a week designated by the American Library Association to bring attention to curriculum censorship. Drag Story Hour, a national 501(c)(3) non-profit with an international presence, was created in 2015 with the mission to create diverse, accessible and culturally inclusive family programming where kids can express their authentic selves and become bright lights of change in their communities. DSH boasts over 50 chapters worldwide and works with drag queens, kings and artists of all kinds to bring storytime to children everywhere.
“As many of the books that we read to children make perfectly clear: words and actions have consequences. It is unfathomable that adults would terrorize children and our drag performers at story hours, and we are livid that conservative politicians and right-wing media are increasingly inciting violence, rather than working to end it.” - Jonathan Hamilt, Executive Director of Drag Story Hour
Our livestream event brought together five drag artists from across the United States to educate and entertain families as part of HRC’s larger effort highlighting Banned Books Week. From North Carolina to New York, these artists shared their passion for drag and DSH while reading some LGBTQ+-themed books that have been banned in some parts of the country.
Some of the selected books included:
Red: A Crayon's Story - A blue crayon mistakenly labeled as “red” suffers an identity crisis. Almost everyone tries to “help” them be red until a friend offers a new perspective. They’re blue! It's about finding the courage to be true to your inner self.
Born Ready: The True Story of a Boy Named Penelope - Penelope knows that he’s a boy. (And a ninja.) The problem is getting everyone else to realize it. Through frustrations and triumphs, Penelope’s experiences show children that it always makes you stronger when you are true to yourself and who you really are.
I Am Jazz - From the time she was two-years-old, Jazz knew that she was a girl, even though others saw her as a boy. She loved pink and dressing up as a mermaid, and didn’t feel like herself in “boys’ clothing.” It is based on the real-life experiences of Jazz Jennings.
Ensuring Stories Live On
LGBTQ+ youth are facing challenging times as the political environment threatens their access to crucial resources and support, especially in schools. Through programs such as Welcoming Schools and DSH, we can show queer youth everywhere that the network of support is far greater than any opposition. At the end of the day, it is our responsibility to provide LGBTQ+ youth with the tools they need to not just survive, but to thrive into adulthood.
Even in the face of political attempts to silence our community, we will remain vigilant and continue to help LGBTQ+ youth and families find the resources they need to thrive. Every child deserves to feel seen in the classroom, and that takes all of us fighting back against attempts to silence our community.
Find more resources that are affirming of LGBTQ+ students, families and staff at hrc.im/ElementaryBooklists