Many of us have special memories of the books that have inspired us, and have learned the profound effect that reading the right book can have at the right moment. During Banned Books Week, which runs through Sept. 24, communities and individuals – book lovers of all kinds from all over the country – come together in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. This week is especially pertinent in Bucks County. A very vocal minority has pushed to remove books that represent a diversity of people and topics from the school libraries, and this past July Central Bucks School Board voted in favor of a policy that will allow that to happen.
We are the leaders of PFLAG Bucks County, a volunteer organization that works to make sure that all people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) are not only valued by society, but take pride in and value themselves. We do this through providing peer-to-peer support, educating people on the issues that are important to the community, and advocating for inclusive policies and laws. All of us here with PFLAG Bucks County, LGBTQ+ people, families and allies, are deeply saddened and disturbed by the decision of the Central Bucks School Board to pass a book censorship policy. When books are censored and stories of marginalized people are removed from our students’ education, it sends the message that the contributions of those excluded groups have no value, even that their stories and experiences are not acceptable, which adds to stigma and removes valuable opportunities for our students to learn about each other and our world. This is not the message we hoped Bucks County would be known for.
Policies that lead to honest, accurate, and inclusive education help every child learn and thrive. Students deserve the chance to learn and develop critical thinking skills, no matter where they come from, transgender or not, straight or LGBTQ+. For many young readers, being able to see themselves reflected in the characters of books strikes a deep chord. Reading books with accurate representations of a student’s own culture, gender identity, or sexual orientation can contribute to self-worth within students, while allowing them to connect with themselves on a deeper level. These students can feel relieved knowing that there are other people who are like them, somewhere out there. As an individual, it’s comforting knowing that you are not the only one who experiences life the way you do.
Furthermore, having books with diversity promotes unity and empathy: people learn that not only are differences tolerated, they are embraced. Literature must be diverse so that we learn not only for ourselves but others as well. Schools and libraries should be given more books about more topics and people. Removing the resources that empower a child to learn and ask questions removes a critical function of education. Students should be empowered to learn and ask questions. School is a place where kids can explore their identity, from the activities they choose to the clothes they wear, from their name to the books they read.
Can’t we all agree that we want all children to have the chance to be their best and thrive, to think critically and make informed decisions. These efforts and policies that ban books take that opportunity away from our children. We can all play a positive part and speak up when it comes to this injustice. The best things we can do to combat the fears of the small minority who are trying to erase these diverse books are to vote, to educate, and to lead with love – because all children, no matter their race, color, genders, or socio-economic backgrounds deserve the freedom to learn.
When we take positive actions, students do better. The climate at school, which includes having access to books and curriculum that is LGBTQ+ inclusive, makes an incredible difference for student outcomes. According to GLSEN’s 2019 National School Climate Survey, “LGBTQ students who experience victimization and discrimination at school have worse educational outcomes and poorer psychological well-being.” They are more likely to skip or drop out of school, have a lower sense of school belonging, higher levels of depression, and are less likely to want to pursue higher education. However, LGBTQ+ youth who report having an inclusive curriculum at school were less likely to miss school because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, had a higher GPA, were more likely to plan to go to college, and felt greater belonging to their school community. This is where the Central Bucks School Board can make a big difference with its students.
What’s happening now at Central Bucks sadly isn’t new. And the thing is, it not only targets LGBTQ+ people because these actions to censor and weaken the education our students receive demonstrably harm all of us. During Banned Books Week and throughout the year, we should all expect our schools to be a place where all students can learn and thrive. We can make our schools and our community a place that includes all of us – no matter your race, gender, or who you love.
When we are inclusive and everyone feels seen and heard, no one loses.
PFLAG is the first and largest organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people, their parents and families, and allies. With over 400 chapters and nearly 250,000 members and supporters crossing multiple generations of families in major urban centers, small cities, and rural areas across America, PFLAG is committed to creating a world where diversity is celebrated and all people are respected, valued, and affirmed. To learn more, visit pflag.org, like us on Facebook (/pflag), watch us on YouTube (/pflag), or follow us on Twitter (@pflag) or Instagram (@pflag).
PFLAG Bucks County is one of the county’s local chapters established in 2008. We are a support group for adults who have a loved one in the LGBTQ+ community. PFLAG Bucks County offers two meetings a month, one is virtual and the other is in-person in Doylestown. We support each other by listening and offering experiences as advice and support people wherever they are in their journey. PFLAG Bucks County also participates in community advocacy and outreach to support the LGBTQ+ Bucks County Community. PFLAG Bucks County Leads with Love! To learn more, visit pflagbuckscounty.org, like us on Facebook ( /pflagbuckscounty), or follow us on Instagram (@pflagbuckscounty).