Books on Race, Sexuality Disappearing from Texas School ShelvesBreaking News
tags: Texas, censorship, teaching history, critical race theory, Banned Books
KATY, Texas — From a secluded spot in her high school library, a 17-year-old girl spoke softly into her cellphone, worried that someone might overhear her say the things she’d hidden from her parents for years. They don’t know she’s queer, the student told a reporter, and given their past comments about homosexuality’s being a sin, she’s long feared they would learn her secret if they saw what she reads in the library.
That space, with its endless rows of books about characters from all sorts of backgrounds, has been her “safe haven,” she said — one of the few places where she feels completely free to be herself.
But books, including one of her recent favorites, have been vanishing from the shelves of Katy Independent School District libraries the past few months.
Gone: “Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts),” a book she’d read last year about a gay teenager who isn’t shy about discussing his adventurous sex life. Also banished: “The Handsome Girl and Her Beautiful Boy,” “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and “Lawn Boy” — all coming-of-age stories that prominently feature LGBTQ characters and passages about sex. Some titles were removed after parents formally complained, but others were quietly banned by the district without official reviews.
“As I’ve struggled with my own identity as a queer person, it’s been really, really important to me that I have access to these books,” said the girl, whom NBC News is not naming to avoid revealing her sexuality. “And I’m sure it’s really important to other queer kids. You should be able to see yourself reflected on the page.”
Her safe haven is now a battleground in an unprecedented effort by parents and conservative politicians in Texas to ban books dealing with race, sexuality and gender from schools, an NBC News investigation has found. Hundreds of titles have been pulled from libraries across the state for review, sometimes over the objections of school librarians, several of whom told NBC News they face increasingly hostile work environments and mounting pressure to pre-emptively pull books that might draw complaints.
Records requests to nearly 100 school districts in the Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin regions — a small sampling of the state’s 1,250 public school systems — revealed 75 formal requests by parents or community members to ban books from libraries during the first four months of this school year. In comparison, only one library book challenge was filed at those districts during the same time period a year earlier, records show. A handful of the districts reported more challenges this year than in the past two decades combined.