Education Censorship, Book Bans, and Attacking Free Speech: Setting the Record Straight as Extremist Politicians in Florida, Alabama and Other States Attempt to Reignite Culture War Attacking LGBTQ+ Youth

by Delphine Luneau

Americans Overwhelmingly Opposed to Efforts to Punish and Target LGBTQ+ Youth

As extremist politicians like Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis seek to reignite a culture war, targeting LGBTQ+ youth by attempting to silence, erase, and isolate them through curriculum censorship, book bans, and other divisive tactics, people across the country are taking notice and pushing back. Poll after poll indicates that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to these efforts to punish and target LGBTQ+ youth. While extremist politicians are seeking to advance an agenda of discrimination, they’re triggering a larger backlash against their actions in states across the country. Below is a brief snapshot of the issue including updated, previously unreleased data from HRC, and important context to better understand the current state of play, the impact of the policy, and the public’s response.



  • These bills effectively aim to prevent the discussion LGBTQ+ issues or people in education settings.

  • This means teachers would be prevented from providing a safe, inclusive classroom for all students.

  • The Florida law blocks teachers from talking about LGBTQ+ issues or people, further stigmatizing LGBTQ+ people and isolating LGBTQ+ kids. It also undermines existing protections for LGBTQ+ students.

  • The Alabama law bans any acknowledgement of sexual orientation or gender identity in classrooms from kindergarten through fifth grade.

  • South Dakota’s law prohibits state education officials from compelling either students or teachers to agree with "divisive concepts" — meaning, acknowledgment of privileges and inequities in our society.

  • Studies clearly demonstrate the harms for LGBTQ+ youth mental health when they are denied affirming and protective school environments:
    • Youth living in states with enumerated antibullying laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity report less homophobic victimization and harassment than do students who attend schools in states without these protections.

    • LGBTQ+ students in schools with LGBTQ+ supporting clubs and sexual orientation & gender identity resources often report feeling safer and are less likely to report depressive symptom, substance use, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors in comparison with students in schools lacking such resources.

  • 86% of LGBTQ+ youth report they have been targets of bullying, harassment, or assault at school.

  • Studies have shown that bullying and harassment of LGBTQ+ youth contribute to high rates of absenteeism, dropout, adverse health consequences, and academic underachievement.

  • A recent Trevor Project survey showed that a startling 85% of transgender or gender non-binary youth say their mental health has been negatively affected by the current wave of legislative attacks.


  • 87% of Americans do not think books should be banned for discussing race or slavery. 85% do not think books should be banned for political ideas you disagree with. 83% do not think books should be banned for criticizing US history. [CBS poll, 2/15-18]

  • Seventy-one percent of likely voters – including 66 percent of Independents and 64 percent of Republicans – believe that local school boards should not have the authority to ban books from school curriculums. [Data for Progress poll, 2/11-13]

  • By a 60-point margin, Americans oppose banning books in public schools. When described as “a growing push to remove certain books from schools across the country, including the graphic novel Maus about the Holocaust, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, and 1984,” more than three in four Americans oppose the banning of books in public schools (16 percent support – 76 percent oppose). Opposition is strong across partisanship, with opposition from almost four in five Republicans (78 percent) and about three in four Democrats and Independents (74 and 76 percent, respectively). [Navigator poll, 2/17-22]

  • 74% support adding more books in English classes by authors who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color. [PIE Network poll, 11/21]

  • Based on National Parents Union’s national polling and meetings with parents all over the country, Keri Rodrigues, co-founder and president of the organization, says restricting how teachers can talk about race or gender "is really at the bottom of the list" of parental priorities. [National Parents Union]


  • Students
    • “This bill is condemning the LGBTQ+ community to death. If you're telling a child that is gay or whatever sexuality, that they're going to hell, or that they need to be quiet and not share with the class, that's just going to cause so much inner trauma and conflict and if they don't have a support system to turn to ... what do you think is going to happen with this child? They're either going to pretend to be someone that they're not or they're going to go through depression and anxiety and even possible self-harm and suicide attempts.” CJ Walden, a high school senior in Boca Raton, Florida [CNN, Apr. 1, 2022]

    • “I ignored [my sexuality] for a really long time. And I think that as a young girl, if a book showed me that this is a life that could be lived, I could have had a lot more peace and coming to terms with bisexuality,” high school senior Gabrielle Izu, at James E. Taylor High School in the Katy Independent School District, Texas [LA Times, Nov. 8, 2021]

    • “When I first decided, like, oh, I don’t really feel like a girl at all, or I don’t always feel like a girl. I felt sort of like I didn't know how to feel about that. But when I realized that that was completely normal, having media that showed that was really helpful.” Saffy Cousins, 6th grader in the Orange County Public School system, Florida [First Coast News, Dec. 7, 2021]

    • “I really feel like, by them banning this book, it’s just spreading the message that it’s not OK to be gay, especially in school. For me, it’s not necessarily about the book. It’s more about the message that banning the book spread. I just feel like they need to stop spreading the message that everybody has to be the same and being gay isn’t OK. ... If I picked one thing to come out of this, it’s to have more of an accepting school.” Alek Burgess, eighth grade student at Bayfield Middle School, Colorado [Durango Herald, Oct. 8, 2021]

    • “I think that [placing an age restriction] creates a harmful environment in the school surrounding LGBTQ+ issues. It makes it seem as though gender expression and sexuality are issues reserved for ‘adults,’ while there are many students at the school who identify with the LGBTQ+ community.” Junior Kate Johnson, Lake Forest High School, Illinois [The Forest Scout, Feb. 25, 2022]

  • Educators
    • “I'm straight. I've never gone through what my LGBTQ+ students have, but I know that they're at a higher risk of bullying, they are higher risk for suicide, and I can never imagine what they're going through. The only thing that I can do is just try to be someone on this campus who they know that I'm going to support them and be in their corner.” Meghan Mayer, a middle school reading teacher in Sarasota, Florida [CNN, Apr. 1, 2022]

    • Jeanne Nettles, who teaches 7th and 8th grade in St. Johns County, Florida, said the bill could make some of her students — such as those with two moms or two dads — feel like they need to hide parts of themselves at school. “Are they not allowed to talk about their home life? … What are you trying to tell them by saying ‘you can’t talk about it’?” she said in an interview after the school day had ended.” [The 19th, Feb. 9, 2022]

    • Austin Johnson, who teaches sociology at Kenyon College and studies LGBTQ+ health, said that, if he had been able to learn about what being transgender meant in high school — especially from a teacher — that would have alleviated the despair that enveloped him; despair that he couldn’t understand or find words for on his own. “I think it would have totally changed my life,” he said. “I think that I would have made different choices in terms of self care. … I didn’t know myself, so it was hard to care for myself.” [The 19th, Feb. 9, 2022]

    • For Clinton McCracken, who has taught art for 21 years at Howard Middle School Academy of Arts in Orlando, this law feels like a hateful, personal attack. McCracken points to a 2021 survey from the Trevor Project, a nonprofit suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ youth, which found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. "I can tell you as someone who grew up as a gay boy, how real that statistic is," he says, "and how dangerous it is that these Republican legislators are playing with the safety of our vulnerable youth. … This is a created culture war from [Gov. DeSantis] so that he can achieve his political ambitions. That's all this is. So yeah, I'm not teaching kids how to be gay in my classroom, but I'll tell you what I am doing. I am trying with all my power to teach kids to be OK with who they are." [NPR, Mar. 30, 2022]

    • “They are creating policies restricting the freedoms for students to be themselves biding with families that insist their heterosexual or cisgender children should feel comfortable in the school environment, essentially by never interacting with beliefs or people who are at odds with their own. … We do not debate the existence of groups of people or their right to exist because they exist whether we believe they do," she added. "We should not be prioritizing one student's comfort over another student's very existence.” Mae Christiansen, sociology teacher at H.G. Hill Middle School in Tennessee [The Tennessean, April 14, 2021]

  • Parents
    • “I think that the LGBTQ community has consistently tried to make the life of LGBTQ people who come after them better. What I hope will continue to happen now that this bill has become a law, is that people will rise up, people will speak up, families like mine will step further into the light. We know what it's like to have to fight for this. And this family that we have, we're incredibly proud of it and nobody is going to silence us. Nobody is going to make us hide." Janelle Perez, a wife and mother living in Miami, Florida [ABC News, Mar. 30, 2022].

    • “It is suicide prevention, in my view. You know, a lot of LGBTQ+ kids aren’t comfortable coming out to their parents, they’re scared. And so having a book like this in the school library is giving them a lifeline.” Jen Cousins, mother of nonbinary 6th grader in Orange County Public School system, Florida [First Coast News, Dec. 7, 2021]

    • “It is our job as parents to make sure these books do not disappear,” Stephana Ferrell, Orange County, Florida, mother [First Coast News, Dec. 7, 2021]

  • Librarians
    • “We haven’t seen or heard of challenges like these probably in the last 40 years. It’s definitely become politicized.” Shirley Robinson, executive director of the 5,000-member Texas Library Association [LA Times, Nov. 8, 2021]

    • “Banning a book is, in my opinion, never justified. If a library or district has a strong collection development policy and a certified professional librarian in charge of that, banning should never be necessary." San Antonio, Texas, middle school librarian Carrie Damon [LA Times, Nov. 8, 2021]

    • “Freedom to read is a right that must be protected in our schools and public libraries, and we must not give in to the vocal few that want to speak for the many,” Austin, Texas, Public Library Director Roosevelt Weeks [LA Times, Nov. 8, 2021]

    • “That one family may choose not to read something does not determine whether or not it's appropriate for another family.” Jaime Prothro, Wichita, Kansas, director of libraries [The Kansas City Beacon, Nov. 30, 2021]

    • “Not only do librarians face the challenge of ensuring that all students are able to see a reflection of themselves in the books they read, but they are also charged with the responsibility of helping explore worlds outside of their own and develop empathy for others.” Davina Sauthoff, the Executive Director of the Utah Education Library Media Association [Fox13 Salt Lake City, Dec. 14, 2021]

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ+ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

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