There have been many instances of books featuring LGBTQIA+ characters and themes or written by LGBTQIA+ authors being challenged or banned. In fact, half of the ALA’s top 10 most challenged books for 2021 list “LGBTQIA+ Content” as a reason that they were challenged, including each of the top 3 most challenged books.
Which is why a blatant censorship attempt from an organization called CatholicVote called “Hide the Pride” is so alarming. In an announcement on the organization’s website published earlier this month, CatholicVote calls for people to “reclaim your public library” by openly targeting Pride Month displays in children’s and young adult sections. This is framed under the guise of protecting children’s innocence, suggesting that anyone other than adults having access to materials on sexuality, gender identity, and other related topics, does harm to the community. According to the same blog post, “a growing number of American parents are saying that they do not want their children exposed to sexual and ‘trans’ content in their education,” citing recent polls. Unfortunately, there are no links or attributed sources in the post to said polls.
The “Hide the Pride” initiative first starts with the suggestion of gathering community signatures of support, and then finding a local library’s Pride Displays. Then, readers are instructed to check out all the books from Pride Month displays that are targeted at children, reminding anyone who questions them that “it’s your right” to check out books. They even suggest bringing along a few friends, so that multiple library cards can be used to speed up the process. The books will then remain on a shelf “out of reach of children” at home, depriving the rest of the community access to the materials. This flier from CatholicVote lists 16 books that “push eroticism, glorify LGBTQ identities, undermine parental rights, and are 100% contrary to the Church’s teaching on love and sexuality” as particular titles to look out for in the library’s collection.
Finally, CatholicVote has a template letter on the blog post that people are instructed to send to library trustees and staff, protesting the Pride Month displays and taking credit for checking out the display books “to protect our children and the community.” The letter makes it clear that those who would take the books should continue to keep them checked out until the library removes the displays and the books from their collection. Personally, I find this line of the letter particularly of note, since the campaign insists its goal is to preserve children’s innocence and doesn’t have anything to do with the LGBTQIA+ adult community: “We ask you to immediately take down your ‘Pride Month’ displays, starting with those placed in children’s and young adults’ sections”. That being said, nowhere else do they explicitly mention Pride Month displays in the adult library collection, or LGBTQIA+ materials aimed at adult readers.
CatholicVote claims to be “America’s top Catholic advocacy organization,” representing “millions of Catholics across the country.” However, a spokesperson for the Chicago Catholic Diocese told the Chicago Sun-Times “Not everything that calls itself ‘Catholic’ is in fact part of our church. CatholicVote is not a Catholic organization, It’s not a part of the church, or sanctioned by the church or has any relationship to the church. It has no standing. It’s a PAC that appears to be well-funded.”
This is not the first time they have made headlines with their stance on the LGBTQIA+ community either. You might remember their “Not Alone” YouTube video, published one day before same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States in 2015. The video, suggesting that Catholics are being oppressed by the decision to legalize same-sex marriage, received massive backlash and has become one of the most disliked videos on the platform.
It may be tempting to believe that no one is going to follow through with this and check out every book in a library’s Pride Month Display so that they are hidden from the public. Even the original announcement’s comments section acknowledges some potential shortcomings of the initiative, such as how checking out books increases circulation statistics and may cause the library to purchase additional copies or more material on the subject. However, according to Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom has received multiple reports from libraries of “individuals checking out all the books from a library’s Pride Month display to prevent other readers viewing or reading the books.” Even CatholicVote claims that they did test runs before launching the initiative, chillingly stating “just check out, nobody bats an eye, and…mission accomplished.”
So, what can be done in the face of this effort that seeks to deprive communities of valuable resources, simply because they do not agree with certain ideas? Book Riot suggests a simple step that anyone can take: letting your local library know that you support and appreciate their Pride Month displays or LGBTQIA+ materials in the collection, or suggest that they have a Pride Month display if they don’t have one already. If your library does have a book challenge of this type (or any type), it’s important to report this to the ALA. They can provide support and resources for you and your report will help them stay aware of potential censorship trends in the US. The ALA also supports LGBTQIA+ authors and books through initiatives like the Rainbow Round Table and Rainbow Book Month. Finally, Deborah Caldwell-Stone’s blog post has some wonderful talking points that librarians can use to address LGBTQIA+ book challenges, especially if your library is faced with CatholicVote’s particular brand of unethical censorship.
It is more important than ever that librarians defend the freedom to be able to choose what to read and ensure that voices of the LGBTQIA+ community are not censored.
Amanda Girard is the Collections, Access, and Facilities Information Specialist at Southern New Hampshire University. In this role, she provides reference support to a variety of students, both on campus and online, with an equally diverse set of information needs. She received her MLS from Simmons University in 2019, and is in the early stages of what she hopes is a life-long service to the academic library field. Amanda’s professional interests include information literacy, book challenges, and censorship. She also loves to explore primary sources in her spare time.