Public Schools

Banned Books Week: Books Can Provide An Opportunity To Discover Who We Are

  Kalli Joslin

Editor’s Note: In recognition of Banned Books Week, we’re running a special series of blog posts featuring AU staff members discussing their experiences with banned books. Americans United has opposed religiously based censorship since the organization’s founding in 1947 because religious extremists and their lawmaker allies should not dictate what books other people’s children are allowed to read. Learn more about the #UniteAgainstBookBans campaign, then share on social media (and tag us @americansunited) why you reject efforts to ban books.

I attended central Florida’s public schools as a kid and was a voracious reader. A proud participant of Florida’s Sunshine State Young Reader Award book program, I spent large swaths of my childhood in the children’s and young adult sections of my schools’ libraries and our local Barnes & Noble. I loved fantasies, coming-of-age stories, teen romances – whatever I could get my hands on. I was always excited to find books with gay characters; I related to them for reasons I didn’t fully understand at the time.

Occasionally, I would try to talk to my cousins about a series I was reading, before realizing that they weren’t allowed to read it because their parents said it didn’t align with their family’s Christian values. I remember being confused by that; after all, I shared their same faith, but I also liked to read about witches and dragons. I didn’t (and still don’t) see how those two were at odds.

When I was around other students, bisexuality was only ever described as a phase or a punchline. It certainly wasn’t an identity I heard anyone talking about seriously, even as I now look back and realize that several of my close friends at the time were also bisexual or queer. For years I considered myself a proud ally of the queer community, but not one of its members, because I didn’t want to take away space from “real” queer people. Eventually, thanks in large part to a supportive high school theatre community, I began to feel comfortable identifying as bisexual and speaking out for LGBTQ+ rights and recognition (though my petition to de-gender my high school’s homecoming king and queen ballot was denied).

Earlier this year, my heart broke as I watched Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Florida Republicans pass the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. I was devastated because I know this law is now affecting kids who are in the same position that I was, desperately trying to figure out where they fit in and who they could grow up to be. I’m grateful I had access to queer resources and role models that enabled me to realize – better late than never – that I could be bisexual, Christian and proud of both identities.

Having finished law school, I’m rediscovering my love for reading and catching up on the array of queer fiction and nonfiction stories that emerged in my absence. I recently read the autobiographies Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe and High School by twin musicians Tegan & Sara. My wife introduced me to one of her all-time favorite books, The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth. These three queer coming-of-age narratives would have made such a difference to me as a high schooler trying to find my own place in the world, and I’m committed to fighting to make sure that students now have that chance.

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The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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