The practice of removing materials deemed obscene or explicit from the greater public dates back long before my lifetime. Now, the issue has come to the schools in Forsyth County, one of the richest and fastest-growing counties in Georgia.
This influx of new wealth and new people to Forsyth over the years has led to more perspectives and ideas being introduced. As a result, materials with LGBTQ content, critiques of America’s pastand books by minority authors have found their way into the county’s public libraries.
Some county residents are not happy with this diversity.
I reached out to the library communications manager Leslie Marinelli. In a series of emails, she gave me some insight into what was going on from the library’s end. I learned the library does consider requests to remove materials. Of late, the disputed content has centered around “sexual content, political views, profanity, and LGBTQ+ characters.”
Library director Anna Lyle said, “Children have different maturity levels, reading abilities, and interests. Parents have different opinions about the suitability of various topics for their children.”
Essentially, Forsyth County Public Libraries holds the view that what is offensive to one person might be interesting or important to someone else. The library trusts its patrons to choose materials that are suitable for themselves and their families.
Attempts at book banning have now extended to Forsyth County school libraries, where eight books were recently removed from school shelves due to a parent challenge. This removal ostracizes the marginalized communities who were represented in many of those books. The banned books do not simply serve to better educate or entertain the broader population: They are a more significant symbol. The inclusion of books representing diverse communities symbolizes open arms, an extension of a hand, acceptance. Removing these works tells these marginalized communities that they are not welcomed or accepted.
Among these books, the majority of which have LGBTQ+ content, is “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” a memoir by George M. Johnson about Johnson’s childhood and adolescence in New Jersey and Virginia growing up as a gay Black man.
The impact of losing such inclusionary books often goes unnoticed, but it takes a toll. In a 2019 study released by the Trevor Project, youth members of the LGBTQ+ community had a 40% lower rate of suicide when at least one accepting adult was present in their life. This directly attests to the importance of young individuals feeling accepted and transcends the LGBTQ+ community. Removing literature that reflects the arc of their lives poses a risk to the lives of our youth.
The books under fire are often on recommended reading lists for advanced high school or AP classes. AP classes are college-level courses, which provide students with the opportunity to earn college credit. Filtering what material is allowed within AP classes fails to simulate the college experience for these ambitious students.
AP classes culminate in a standardized exam that draws from the reading list. These exams determine whether a student will receive college credit. Being denied access to some of the books could put students in a position to score worse in a county that is ultra-competitive about test scores.
Further, students who can afford the books will purchase them whether or not the school or library has them available.
Failing to allow adolescents to be exposed to words on a page that coincide with thoughts they are having might leave students feeling lost or worse. Books serve as a safe way for students to discover themselves, their interests and their passions. They can find a character going through the same issues they are going through. Books allow youth to have dialogue internally that they might feel awkward or scared to talk about with adults or peers.
As with the county’s public library’s position, I believe it should be up to a parent’s discretion what their child reads. But the decision they make for their own child should not affect other students.