A week ago, the cowards at the Hillsborough County School Board banned “This Book Is Gay” from middle schools. It was only available at Pierce Middle School, and had been challenged by a single parent who didn’t have a child at that school — and was vetted by two committees before being put in the school library — but the school board saw fit to ban it not just from Pierce, but 121 schools serving more than 80,000 students.
Advocates for banning books said it wasn’t an attack on LGBTQ people, and they were just trying to keep inappropriate materials out of kids’ hands. But bullshit disguised as parental outrage is bullshit nonetheless.
I couldn’t go to the school board meeting to voice my opinion, but I emailed all the board members the day before. Here is what I wrote:
I encourage all board members to reject any action that would prevent students from reading or accessing “This Book Is Gay.” There are young LGBTQ students in every school — a fact that some people do not wish to recognize — and denying them of materials that validate their existence and speak to their life experiences is harmful and stunts their educational and personal development.
As someone who grew up without books like this, I know firsthand what is it like to grow up without seeing positive representations of yourself. Banning this book and others like it will cause real harm, psychological trauma, and self-hatred for many students, making schools not a place of education but isolation — a place where students will suffer, not succeed. You have a moral, ethical, and legal obligation to not let that happen.
Be brave, be principled, and be a board that does not bow down to bullies or bigots.
LGBTQ people are under attack here in Florida, and nowhere is this more evident — or appalling — than in our public schools. The “Don’t Say Gay” law and other initiatives demean and discredit LGBTQ youth and erase our existence. The book ban here isn’t an isolated incident. It’s the latest step in a campaign of hate and degradation.
Why This Matters to Me
What’s happening now hits me at a visceral level, not just an intellectual one. When I was growing up, there was no discussion of LGBTQ people — certainly not in middle school or high school. All I heard were crude jokes and a sense of disgust. In the news, gay men were dying from AIDS. Politically, LGBTQ people were punching bags. In movies and on TV, LGBTQ people were either considered jokes or made out to be wicked.
That really takes a toll on you.
In 2015, I took the Complimentary Spouse on a tour of my elementary and middle school in London, and when we turned a corner, I saw this:
I was choked up, and I’m still emotional when I think about it today. There was no overt effort to exclude LGBTQ people from schools when I was there, but there was also no recognition that we existed.
Seeing that flag years ago filled me with hope. I know it’s still there today.1 It shows children at my elementary and middle school that they’re welcome, accepted, and loved.
Sadly, children in my county will never see a symbol as important as this one. And, in a way, that’s worse. As a kid, I didn’t know what it would mean to be recognized. These kids will know what it means — and see that they’re being deprived of it.
1 Here’s my former school’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion statement. Florida is dismantling DEI initiatives at schools statewide.