By: Jamie Gregory
As ALA’s release of the top 10 most challenged titles in 2019 shows, book censorship reaches well beyond objectionable language and violence. 8 of the 10 most frequently challenged books feature diverse content related to sexuality. Educators and parents must understand the damage inflicted upon children when they are denied the right to feel accepted and fairly represented at school and in the library.
According to this 2019 GLSEN report, in 2017 seventy-six percent of LGBTQ students in South Carolina reported verbal harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, and 34% report physical harassment. Only 7% reported being taught positive representations of LBGTQ people or history in the school curriculum. We must be concerned about protecting the mental health and well-being of all students when they go to school and not allow personal beliefs to restrict access to accurate information.
Seeking out local resources to support diversity in education is a great place to start. Educator Jed Dearybury recently answered some questions related to his current work with the Uplift Outreach Center in Spartanburg, SC. Its mission: “With the rate of youth homelessness and suicide on the rise, Uplift Outreach Center is focused on providing a safe space that will help ground kids that are most at risk.” It is currently providing online services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Please describe the work you are currently doing to support LGBTQ students’ rights in South Carolina.
Currently, I am the Vice President of the Board of Directors for Uplift Outreach Center, and LGBTQ+ youth center for 10-19 year-old students in the upstate of SC. The Center, prior to temporarily closing for Covid19, is open Tuesdays from 3:30pm-6:30pm for the 15-19 age group and Saturdays from 1:00pm-3:00pm for the 10-14 age group and 3:00pm-6:00pm again for the 15-19 age group. I also provide trainings for schools around the country who seek to be more inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community.
How did you become involved/become passionate about this topic/area of education?
As a gay man, I have lived most of my life in fear. Fear of being “found out.” Fear of being outed. Fear of being fired. Fear of community reprisals for standing up for equality. As an adult, I want to help end those fears for the LGBTQ+ students who are growing up in our community and state.
How are LGBTQ students in SC not being served?
[Here are] a few points:
- Elementary libraries and classrooms do not have books that represent the LGBTQ+ community. There is no “specific” law against it, but the social norms of the area just almost forbid it, yet heteronormative books are very available at the elementary level.
- Many high schools currently do not allow Gay/Straight Alliances (GSA) because of conservative leaders on their school boards or in their administrations. If allowed they are often renamed “Unity Club” or “Friendship Club” to avoid the appearance of supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
- Until recently, and only after students in Charleston took up the fight, it was against the law in SC to mention homosexuality in sex education courses as anything other than negative. Teachers were only allowed to discuss our community as an STD risk.
- Teachers in SC do not have protection at their jobs. This is poor service to the students in that their teachers aren’t able to be themselves at work. They often have to hide, or even lie to their students about who they really are out of fear for losing their jobs.
- Limiting the SC public school students’ knowledge of the history, benefits, and contributions of the LGBTQ+ community in our communities, state, and nation is depriving them of a well-balanced education that other states are giving.
- SC currently has no hate crime laws. This is allowing for unprecedented bullying of LGBTQ+ students to occur daily with no more than a slap on the wrist by many districts.
What are your long-range goals for the work you are currently doing?
Long-range goals… SC needs a hate crime law and protections for LGBTQ+ employees. The students we are serving may be safe in some schools, but they won’t have that when they leave the school system.
How can public and school libraries in SC become involved?
Books, books, books, books, books that show LGBTQ+ experiences and characters. REPRESENTATION matters!
I’ve written about SC state law section 59-30-30 in which public school teachers cannot mention homosexuality except in the context of discussing sexually transmitted diseases. NPR recently reported a student in the Charleston area bringing a lawsuit against SC because of this law. What harm does this law bring to LGBTQ students, and why should it be unlawful?
The law perpetuates negative stereotypes about the community and teaches non LGBTQ+ students that our community is somehow dangerous or bad for society. That, coupled with the lack of protections in our state, is a powder keg waiting to explode on a daily basis with the LGBTQ+ students being the victims of a potential explosion.
Have you done any work analyzing the wording of state learning standards in order to identify bias and/or censorship?
I have not done any work at this time. I was offered a temporary position this summer doing some anti-bias work regarding state assessments with the State Dept. of Education this summer. I could make more money waiting tables. Until the state gets serious about paying professionals to do this work, there will be no changes in our system.
Over half of the top 10 challenged books as reported by the ALA in 2018 included diverse content. Do you feel that fairly captures the opinions/beliefs of American society?
Yes, the country has a long way to go.
What are some of your main talking points when you engage with those who disagree with your platform?
I share with them a book I read called This I Know by Pastor Jim Dant of Greenville, SC. Most people in this area who disagree with my platform do so because of their religious teachings that someone told them, not something that they studied to understand on their own. This book shows the misuse of scripture to attack our community, and how the true meanings of the two main scriptures used against us have been misconstrued for centuries. The word homosexual wasn’t event used in the Bible until 1611, when King James had it added.
Jamie M. Gregory is a National Board Certified Teacher in Library Media working as the Upper School Librarian and journalism teacher at Christ Church Episcopal School in Greenville, SC.