LGBTQ books pulled from Texas school libraries

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Image courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Image courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Hundreds of books are disappearing from the shelves of school libraries in Texas. They haven't simply gone missing — they have been removed by order of local school districts, or by librarians hoping to avoid controversy over the content of the books.

All have common themes: sexual orientation or race.

Among the titles removed:

  • Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts), about a gay teenager who isn't shy about discussing his sex life
  • The Handsome Girl and Her Beautiful Boy
  • All Boys Aren't Blue
  • Lawn Boy

    All are coming-of-age stories that prominently feature LGBTQ characters and passages about sex. Some titles were removed after parents formally complained, but others were quietly banned by the district without official reviews.

    Records requests made by NBC News to nearly a hundred school districts in the Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin regions revealed 75 formal requests by parents or community members to ban books from libraries during the first four months of this school year.

    In comparison, only one library book challenge was filed at those districts during the same time period a year earlier, NBC said. Some school districts reported more challenges this year than in the past two decades combined.

    Ten current or recently retired Texas school librarians who spoke to a reporter described growing fears that they could be attacked by parents on social media or threatened with criminal charges. Some said they've quietly removed LGBTQ-affirming books from shelves or declined to purchase new ones to avoid public criticism.

    Five of the librarians said they were thinking about leaving the profession, and one already has. Sarah Chase, librarian at Carroll Senior High School in Southlake, a Fort Worth suburb, said ill feelings over books contributed to her decision to retire in December, months earlier than she'd planned.

    "I'm no saint," said Chase, 55. "I got out because I was afraid to stand up to the attacks. I didn't want to get caught in somebody's snare. Who wants to be called a pornographer? Who wants to be accused of being a pedophile or reported to the police for putting a book in a kid's hand?"

    Parents leading the charge against the books say they're merely trying to shield their children from sexually explicit material that should not be available in public schools. Some of the books they want banned include hetero sex scenes, they add.

    But in many cases, parents and Republican politicians have flagged books about racism and LGBTQ issues that don't include explicit language, including some picture books about Black historical figures and Transgender children.

    Authors vigorously deny that any of the books in question meet the legal definition of pornography. Although some include sexually explicit passages or drawings, those scenes are presented in the context of broader narratives and not for the explicit purpose of sexual stimulation, they said.

    "Some parents want to pretend that books are the source of darkness in kids' lives," said Ashley Hope Pérez, author of the young adult novel Out of Darkness, which has been repeatedly targeted by Texas parents for its depiction of a rape scene and other mature content.

    "The reality for most kids is that difficulties, challenges, harm, oppression — those are present in their own lives, and books that reflect that reality can help to make them feel less alone."

    Several Queer students, meanwhile, said the idea that it's inappropriate for teenagers to read about LGBTQ sexual relationships is making them feel unwelcome in their communities.

    "Reading books or consuming any kind of media that has LGBTQ representation, it doesn't turn people Gay or make people turn out a certain way," said Amber Kaul, a 17-year-old Bisexual student in Katy, Texas.

    "I think reading those books helps kids realize that the feelings that they've already had are valid and OK, and I think that's what a lot of these parents are opposed to."

    "As I've struggled with my own identity as a Queer person, it's been really, really important to me that I have access to these books," said a teenage girl, whom NBC News did not identify by name because she is not out.

    "And I'm sure it's really important to other Queer kids. You should be able to see yourself reflected on the page."