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Queer literature advocates speak out against book bans

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Posted at 9:56 AM, Jun 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-10 14:34:28-04

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.  — For 36 years, Quatrefoil Library has been a center for books and archived magazines about the queer experience.

"The mission, I think then as now is to be a crossroads, to be a place where people connect and to be a place where people can explore and be exposed to new ideas or existing ideas that they might already be thinking about," said executive director Claude Peck.

It’s a place that believes in the power of books for folks to see themselves in and connect to a community that they might otherwise not have. With this belief, the current culture war is something that worries Peck.

"It's a concern and things seem to be accelerating," he said.

According to PEN America, between July 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, 1,586 books were banned in 86 school districts across 26 states, including Minnesota where Quatrefoil is located. Most of the books had to do with race and LGBTQ topics.

"Books were an important part of my coming out process and so for me to be able to think about like, what was missing then and what is probably missing now. And can I write that?" said Rachel Gold, who is an associate professor and author of young adult books about queer characters.

"Representation is immensely important in young adult because it's this identity formation stage," they said.

Rachel says that they believe these bans come from fear. They believe that stories are one of the safest ways for teens to see themselves as they figure out their identity or for people to learn about others.

"Learning about LGBTQ lives is not going to turn anybody gay, but it is going to allow for broader, interesting, productive, and fulfilling work and friend relationships for the whole rest of your life," they said.

Just like Gold saw a gap in representation in literature, Rebecca Lawerence saw a gap in the telling of queer history. Lawrence started telling queer history, a series of gatherings for these stories to be passed down.

"There's like anger and also just hilarity that they think that that will keep us from knowing who we are or keep us from being who we are," they said.

Limiting exposure to queer literature won’t erase their community, but they believe barriers to access are harmful.

"Having stories to reflect yourself is extremely validating. It's a way to understand yourself and be like, okay, that's not exactly my story, but I can understand this. Like that's how we build empathy," Lawrence said.

When a new LGBTQ book is banned, Quatrefoil makes it a point to have it available.

"My parents hated my Frank Zappa album when I first bought it and I liked it twice as much as a result, so you gotta be careful of that to," joked Peck.

While conversations about excluding books in libraries continue, advocates for more available literature hope people consider the benefits of representation.

"People just need to be aware that this wisdom comes from all kinds of sources and that it's a changing world," said Peck.