Responding to Anti-LGBTQ Censorship Attempts

All Rainbow Library recipients hear firsthand from readers the positive impacts that these books have for them. However, it is important to be prepared in case someone attempts to censor or ban any Rainbow Library books. Here’s what we recommend you do.
  1. Assert Students’ Rights: If a member of school or district leadership attempts to ban a Rainbow Library book, explain that the First Amendment protects every student’s right to read books with LGBTQ+ characters and history. In Case v Unified School District, a federal district court in Kansas reversed a school district’s ban on a book about a romance between two female characters. In Island Trees Union Free School District v Pico, the Supreme Court ruled that “school boards may not remove books from school libraries simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.” Make clear to those in opposition that book bans fail in court and result in expensive lawsuits for schools and districts.
  2. Gather Information on Contested Books: A school board or administrator cannot unilaterally ban a book. If there is a formal challenge, it must go through the library’s reconsideration policy, which should involve a reconsideration committee. To prepare for that scenario, use the summary pages that came with your Rainbow Library as well as external resources, such as Follett Titlewave, to assemble reviews and lists of awards each book has won. This will help you and others explain why these books belong in your school library. The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom can provide additional support if you need.
  3. Partner with Community Members to Fight Censorship: Connect with others in your area to oppose the ban attempt. Invite supporters of affirming books to attend any public meetings (such as a school board meeting or library board meeting) where the book ban attempt is addressed. Potential supporters can include a GSA club advisor, a local GLSEN chapter or PFLAG chapter, or your state association of school librarians. Public comments from students and families in opposition to book bans have been especially effective at helping defeat recent censorship attempts. Students and family members should clearly communicate the importance of these books for LGBTQ+ students, and the negative message that a ban of LGBTQ+ affirming books would send to LGBTQ+ students.

Additional Resources

One-on-One Support

National Coalition Against Censorship Book Challenge Crisis Hotline

American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom Book Challenge Reporting Form & Assistance Request

Legal Precedents Affirming Students’ Right to Read

Island Trees v. Pico (1982): Supreme Court struck down a school board’s decision to ban a collection of books because the board disagreed with the books’ ideas. This case established the need for school districts to have a standardized book reconsideration policy, where stakeholders, including educators, school librarians, and others review book challenges.

Case v. Unified School Dist. No. 233 (1995): A U.S. District Court in Kansas struck down a superintendent’s decision to unilaterally remove a book about a romance between two female characters. The court determined that the district violated students’ First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Gender and Sexuality Alliance v. Spearman (2020): In 2020 the U.S. District Court in Charleston, South Carolina struck down a state law that banned the discussion of same-sex relationships in public schools. The court ruled that the law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Lambda Legal Fact Sheet: This resource summarizes students’ rights with regard to accessing LGBTQ affirming books in public school libraries. The fact sheet also offers responses to frequently asked questions on the matter.

Sample Testimony & Templates for Letters to School Board Members

The National Coalition Against Censorship created a School Book Challenge Resource Center with videos of student speeches against book bans as well as templates for letters to school board members.

The #FReadom Fighters, a group of Texas school librarians fighting book bans there and across the country, created a Resource Page and Padlet with sample letters and guidance for writing and speaking against book bans.

Model Library Reconsideration Policy

The American Library Association has a Selection & Reconsideration Policy Toolkit for Public, School, & Academic Libraries. The toolkit has language on why it is essential for libraries to have a policy, as well as a model policy for you to use or adapt from.

Model Library Director Response to Book Challenge

After receiving a challenge to an LGBTQ affirming book, the library staff at the Cozby Library and Community Commons in Coppell, Texas reviewed the book and complaint. The Library Director’s detailed response is a model for you to reference. The complete response in PDF form is here. Additional context from BookRiot is here.

Twitter Accounts to Follow

@FReadomFighters – (Texas school librarians fighting book ban attempts)

@OIF – (American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom)

@PENamerica – (PEN America, a pro-freedom of expression nonprofit)

@ncacensorship (National Coalition Against Censorship)

@BookRiot (news site with weekly wrap-up of book ban related stories)

@FLFreedomRead (Florida Freedom to Read Project)


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