The Huntsville-Madison County Public Library (HCPL) in Alabama found itself under scrutiny for labeling a book as potentially “sexually explicit” based solely on the author’s last name: “Gay.” This eyebrow-raising incident has drawn attention to the larger issue of censorship, particularly concerning LGBTQ+ content, in educational institutions across the United States.
“Read Me a Story, Stella” Faces Removal
The book in question, “Read Me a Story, Stella” by Marie-Louise Gay, is a short, funny tale that follows two children who explore how fun reading can be.
A Tale of Innocence Under Threat
It’s a story tailor-made for young readers, with the School Library Journal deeming it suitable for kindergarten through third grade.
Yet, despite its innocence and educational value, it found itself on a list of 233 books slated for review and potential removal.
The Surname That Started It All
The root cause of this situation? The author’s surname: “Gay.”
The Growing Threat to Books in Schools
The incident sheds light on the increasing challenges faced by books in schools and public libraries, driven by a larger “groomer” moral panic, which claims that exposure to LGBTQ+ content can influence children’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Censorship on the Rise
According to PEN America, an organization advocating freedom of expression, the 2022-2023 school year witnessed a huge 33% increase in banned books.
LGBTQ+ Content Under Fire
While those seeking to ban books often assert that their motivations are unrelated to LGBTQ+ content, PEN America’s research reveals a striking contradiction: 30% of the targeted books had LGBTQ+ characters or themes.
“Gay” in the Crosshairs
Marie-Louise Gay’s book’s inclusion on the list serves as further evidence that LGBTQ+ content is increasingly becoming a regular target of censorship efforts.
The Library’s Explanation
Cindy Hewitt, HCPL’s Executive Director, acknowledged that the book’s presence on the list was solely due to the author’s last name.
She stated that there was no intention to target LGBTQ+ individuals despite the library subjecting books containing the word “gay” to scrutiny.
LGBTQ+ Terms and Subjects
AL.com reported that 91% of the books on HCPL’s list featured terms such as “gay,” “transgender,” “gender identity,” or “gender non-conforming” in their subject headers.
The Controversial Scrutiny of Books
Hewitt explained that the library’s goal was to be “proactive instead of reactive.” Branch managers received instructions to search for books with words related to “sexuality, gender, sex, and dating.”
In response to the scrutiny, many of these books were relocated to the adult section, raising concerns among library staff members.
Relocating Books and Raising Eyebrows
Alyx Kim-Yohn, an HCPL employee, criticized Hewitt for unilaterally moving the books before there had been any complaints.
Supporting Banned Books
Kim-Yohn urged supporters of these books to take action by checking them out, attending story times, and making purchase requests.
They emphasized the importance of continued support for the library system.
Marie-Louise Gay’s Response to the Book Controversy
Marie-Louise Gay, a 71-year-old Canadian author, has remained silent regarding her book’s inclusion on the list.
However, her publisher, Groundwood Books, released a statement condemning the censorship.
The Harm of Censorship
Kirsten Brassard, Gay’s publicist, labeled the situation “laughable” but underscored its seriousness.
Brassard argued that censorship sends a harmful message to children, suggesting that certain ideas or people are unworthy of discussion or acknowledgment.
Freedom to Read Under Siege
Public libraries, she noted, should be safe spaces where curiosity is nurtured, not stifled.
As debates around the freedom to read continue, this incident underscores the ongoing challenges libraries, authors, and readers face in navigating an increasingly challenging landscape where even an author’s name can spark controversy.
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Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock /Tomsickova Tatyana. The people shown in the images are for illustrative purposes only, not the actual people featured in the story.