By Ainsley Trunkhill / Staff Writer

“To Kill a Mockingbird”, “Catcher in the Rye”, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. Most commonly seen in a high school English classroom, these historically targeted texts exist in the forefront of minds when it comes to banned books.

Nowadays, however, fewer people bat an eye at Atticus and Scout Finch. Instead, books that target Black and LGBTQIA+ voices are being challenged at an exponential rate, with 729 challenges across 1,597 different titles recorded in 2021 alone, according to the American Library Association.

During Banned Books Week, which runs from September 18-24, libraries and schools nationwide celebrate intellectual freedom and marginalized voices while combating censorship. 

In 2021, the most challenged book was “Gender Queer”by Maia Kobabe, censored for LGBTQIA+ content. In 2020, “George” by Alex Gino held that spot, for transgender content and “conflicting with a religious viewpoint,” according to the ALA.

The current divisive political climate allows discriminatory groups to infiltrate spheres of society through book bannings. With a wider availability of voices represented in modern literature comes a stronger push from largely Christian conservatives to silence them. It often only takes one person’s opinion to silence the voices of a community. Most libraries maintain an application for individuals to challenge a book, which then trickles up to a director or school board. The unprecedented increase in book bannings, however, partially exists due to an evolution of the traditional process.

“We have seen legislative things being pushed that also determine whether or not a book can stay in a public library,” said Melissa Emo, a Hutchinson Community College librarian. “This is a new territory.”

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida and outlaws on Critical Race Theory in Oklahoma display instances of widespread censorship. In these cases, just as in book bannings, Black and LGBTQIA+ communities are disproportionately affected.

“(It) is ridiculous,” said Stella Wamsley, a current HutchCC student and member of the transgender community. “I was shown straight media for the entirety of my developing years and none of it had any effect on my current gender identity and sexual orientation … It’s a clear sign of general ignorance on the part of conservatives.”

Despite attempts to erase minority experiences with single-sided narratives, movements such as Banned Books Week help fight back. Protestors occupied the streets of Florida with banners and chants at the “Don’t Say Gay” bill’s announcement, and the New York Public Library created a program allowing free, unlimited access to Ebooks nationwide.

At HutchCC’s JFK Library, Emo and the other librarians created a powerful display for Banned Books Week that amplifies targeted voices, complete with books within the library that are currently challenged in schools.

“I think just stand united,” Emo said, suggesting a way to push back against politicians and puppeteering groups. Her advice parallels the 2022 Banned Books Week theme – “Books unite us. Censorship divides us.”

Furthermore, Emo warns that people should recognize the broader threat to intellectual freedom and individual rights. “Even if someone doesn’t particularly care about this issue. . . it doesn’t take much for this censorship to go to other things that they do care about,” she said. “This is just the beginning.”  

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