Statement by IFC Chair Martin Garnar on attacks against GLSEN, Kevin Jennings

Censorship, Intellectual Freedom Issues

The American Library Association (ALA) supports intellectual freedom and opposes censorship in any form, including the suppression of information that some may find controversial or objectionable.  Libraries and librarians give substance to intellectual freedom by acquiring and providing information without prejudice or restriction and supporting each person’s right to read and speak freely, regardless of their opinions or beliefs.

There are those who challenge the right to read and speak freely, believing that certain ideas and opinions have no place in our common discourse because they find them to be offensive, harmful, or even dangerous.  They believe that certain institutions, even society itself, will be endangered if particular ideas are disseminated without restriction.

The most recent example of this behavior can be found in the ongoing campaign against Kevin Jennings, the Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, attacking him because GLSEN, an organization he founded but with which he is no longer affiliated, publishes a list of literary works that touch on gay themes.  These attacks seek to stigmatize Jennings and GLSEN for providing information for those who are interested in gay-positive books and materials for youth and adults alike.

Many organizations create and distribute recommended book lists as a means of advising either their members or the general public regarding the organizations’ opinions on the contents and suitability of certain books or other materials.  In addition, many libraries develop and make available their own readers’ advisory book lists to assist users in locating information on topics of interest.  Librarians and educators should be free to provide information about such reading lists to their communities, regardless of viewpoint.

Though Jennings’ and GLSEN’s critics claim to be upholding American morals and values by condemning the GLSEN book list, they are actually undermining the values of tolerance, free inquiry, and self-determination that inform and sustain our democratic way of life in the United States.  Stigmatizing particular ideas and engaging in unfounded personal attacks in an effort to censor and suppress opposing opinions and ideas is the antithesis of intellectual freedom, especially when done to discourage and prevent individuals from accessing or considering those opinions and ideas.  Such acts strike at the core of our democracy.

— Martin Garnar, Chair, ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee