In 1978, as a sophomore in college, I was assigned to read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and then write an essay for the English class. Fahrenheit 451 was written in 1953; it presents an American society where books have been personified and outlawed and "firemen" burn any that are found. The novel follows Guy Montag, a fireman who becomes disillusioned with his role of censoring literature and destroying knowledge, eventually quitting his job and committing himself to the preservation of literary and cultural writings.
I remember that I closed my essay by saying, "It is a great, scary, science fiction book, but luckily it will never happen here.” How wrong I was.
Recently passed state and local legislation is dictating what schools may or may not teach and what students may or may not read. Over 3,000 different titles were banned or censored by school districts so far. Nearly 60% of those bans were aimed at classrooms and school libraries, and most of the targeted books were by or about racial minorities or LGBTQ people. Broad, vaguely defined prohibitions on teaching "critical race theory" and other allegedly divisive topics in classrooms have compelled many teachers to alter their curricula or quit. In Florida, a textbook publisher even had to completely remove a purely factual passage on George Floyd's murder and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests. In a dozen states, teachers and school librarians now face potential prison time for violating the bans. It isn't just individual books being "removed, restricted, suppressed in public schools" anymore, said Kasey Meehan of the PEN America foundation. “It's a set of ideas, it's themes, it's identities, it's knowledge on the history of our country."
Even poems are getting banned. Florida did away with "The Hill We Climb" written by Amanda Gorman for the 2021 Presidential Inauguration. The poem contains one of the most moving lines ever written about our country following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol: “Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”
Apparently our state's politicians think that printed words are more dangerous than bullets.
But people are fighting back. The irony?
A Utah school district has banned the Bible for elementary and middle school students after it was determined to be “too vulgar” and “too violent” for younger readers. The move came after a parent in the district grew frustrated by other efforts to ban books in schools.
We are heading toward a "1984" Orwellian reality. The book, written in 1949, is a cautionary tale that centers on the consequences of totalitarianism, mass surveillance and repressive regimentation of people and behaviors within society. The novel examines the role of truth and facts within societies and the ways in which they can be manipulated. Through the Ministry of Truth, the Party engages in omnipresent government surveillance, historical negationism, and constant propaganda to persecute individuality and independent thinking. Sounds familiar?
In 1999 The Advocate listed the 100 Best Lesbian and Gay novels selected by the Publishing Triangle.
For now I will only list the 5 books that had a great impact on my life:
1) Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
2) Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran
3) The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren
4) A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
5) The Boys of Boise by John Gerassi
You can probably find them all at the Stonewall Library in Fort Lauderdale. These books must be preserved and treasured to make sure the LGBTQ community is not erased from society.