Banned LGBTQ+ Books: Celebrating Pride through Controversial Reads

In recent years, the United States has witnessed a significant rise in book banning, particularly targeting literature that delves into LGBTQ+ experiences and stories. During the 2023-2024 school year, instances of book banning skyrocketed, surpassing 4,000 counts in just the first half of the year, a figure that eclipses the total recorded in the previous year. This phenomenon often targets works that have the potential to empower individuals from marginalized communities, encourage readers to challenge societal norms, and enrich the collective understanding of diverse histories and experiences.

In response to this trend, bookstores, literary publications, and various organizations are striving to increase the visibility and accessibility of these banned and challenged books. In honor of Pride month, we present a curated list of works by queer and transgender authors that have faced bans in schools or libraries. Though geared towards young readers, these compelling stories resonate with a broad audience of all ages and orientations.

"All Boys Aren't Blue" by George M. Johnson

"Queer Black existence has been here forever, and yet rarely has that experience been spotlighted within literature aimed at Black boyhood," reads the Kirkus review of George M. Johnson’s 2020 memoir-manifesto, "All Boys Aren’t Blue." Johnson’s narrative captures his experiences growing up Black and queer in New Jersey and Virginia. Over the years, this book has become one of the most banned titles. In an NPR article, Johnson shared his thoughts, asserting that the bans have only driven him to write more, ensuring stories that once defined his reality inspire and empower others.

"Cemetery Boys" by Aiden Thomas

Aiden Thomas's "Cemetery Boys," published in 2020, stands as a pioneering work. It was the first novel by an openly trans author featuring a trans narrative to make it to the New York Times bestseller list. Despite its accolade from the National Book Award and accolades from the American Library Association, it has faced significant opposition. The book tells the story of a queer, trans teenager seeking acceptance from his Latinx family while encountering supernatural adventures. Thomas labels it a “ghost story turned rom-com,” portraying it as a tapestry of culture, acceptance, and identity described in a Publishers Weekly review.

"Last Night at the Telegraph Club" by Malinda Lo

Released in 2021, Malinda Lo’s "Last Night at the Telegraph Club" intertwines the journey of a Chinese American teenager exploring her sexuality in 1950s San Francisco with the broader themes of the Red Scare, anti-Asian racism, and shifting career dynamics for women. Lo has been vocal about the banning of her books, as detailed in her blog post "My Books Have Been Banned or Challenged in 16 States." She reflected on how one reader was so deeply moved by the story they felt discomfort over empathizing with a queer character, highlighting the impact of such narratives.

"Gender Queer" by Maia Kobabe

Maia Kobabe’s autobiographical graphic memoir, "Gender Queer," has topped the ALA’s list of most challenged books for several years. The book delves into Kobabe's journey of understanding and embracing gender identity and sexuality. According to a School Library Journal review, it is a valuable resource for those identifying as nonbinary or asexual and those seeking to support them. Initially met with positive feedback, the book became a focal point of controversy in 2021 following a viral video complaint. Kobabe remains a staunch advocate against the adverse effects of such book bans, emphasizing the importance of diverse and inclusive literature.

“Book banning undermines the essential aims of literature: to engage, to expand perspectives, and to foster empathy.”—Maia Kobabe

For more insights on the rise of book bans and the impact on marginalized voices, visit the PEN America's resources on banned books featuring transgender stories. Efforts to make these stories more accessible during Pride Month and beyond help counteract the harmful effects of censorship.

Celebrate Literature with Themed Merchandise

In addition to supporting banned books, celebrating and embracing diverse stories can also take the form of themed merchandise. Liam and Lore offers a range of bookish products that celebrate literary culture and represent a variety of voices and identities. From Pride-themed bookmarks to apparel celebrating your favorite banned books, their collection provides a way to visibly support and enjoy literature that challenges and inspires.

July 02, 2024 — Kristin James