A nationwide political push to ban books has prompted some Wisconsin school districts to review challenged books and, in some cases, pull titles deemed in violation of district policies.
PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for freedom of expression, reported 1,477 instances of individual books banned from July to December 2022, affecting 874 unique titles. Of the 874 unique titles, 26% presented LGBTQ+ characters or themes and within this category, 68 were books that included transgender characters, which is 8% of all books banned, according to PEN America.
During the 2022-23 school year, PEN America reported 3,362 instances of book titles being banned in schools, 43 of which were in Wisconsin.
School districts across the country are caught in the crossfire of a nationwide debate on whether certain books should be taken off school shelves. The American Library Association (ALA) reported 1,269 demands to censure library books and resources in 2022, nearly double the book challenges reported in 2021.
Censor-targeted titles grew by 38% between 2021 and 2022, according to ALA censorship data. Of the targeted books, the vast majority were written by or about members of the LGBTQ+ community or people of color.
The ALA said the data and challenged books lists suggest “evidence of growing, well-organized, conservative political movement, the goals of which include removing books about race, history, gender identity, sexuality and reproductive health from America’s public and school libraries.”
Kenosha, Menomonee Falls district officials banned LGBTQ+ books
In Wisconsin, Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) removed four books from its school libraries this year, including “This Book is Gay,” “Gender Queer,” Let’s Talk About It” and “All Boys Aren’t Blue.”
KUSD School Board member Eric Meadows defended the decision to remove the books in a September Facebook post, stating the books were removed “not because of the LGBT nature of them, but because of overtly explicit and obscene pictures and descriptions.”
Not everyone was happy with the decision to pull books from KUSD libraries.
Destiny Garcia, a senior at Lakeview Technology Academy, told The Daily Cardinal she doesn’t believe books should be banned because learning about difficult topics in a “controlled setting,” such as school, will help students better navigate these topics and develop their own opinions.
“Removing books with LGBTQ+ representation sends a message that being queer is obscene,” Garcia told the Cardinal. She said students will be exposed to “LGBTQ+ people, events and topics outside of school anyway,” so why “shield that content?”
Still, Meadows claims these books expose children to “pornographic material” and is aware he will receive backlash for his post.
“I will receive a lot of anger from some in the community just for writing this. I don’t care. My first priority will be to protect the innocence of our children,” Meadows said in the Facebook post.
KUSD isn’t the only school district in Wisconsin that has pulled books off the shelves. Menomonee Falls School District decided on Oct. 19 to pull 33 books from the Menomonee Falls High School library. The district told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel it removed the books because they violated policies regarding sexual content and profanity.
The books pulled came from a list compiled over the course of two years by Menomonee Falls School Board President Nina Christensen and other board members, Superintendent David Muñoz told the Journal Sentinel.
While some parents praised the district for pulling the books, others opposed the ban and worried it may hurt students rather than help them.
Grassroots Menomonee Falls Area, a local group “dedicated to the furthering of American values and candidates that share them,” has been outspoken about book challenges in Menomonee Falls and released a statement on Oct. 18 asking the school district to “engage in open dialogue with all stakeholders.”
“The removal of books from a school library, particularly when it deviates from established policy, is a matter of serious concern to the community,” the group said in a statement on Oct 18. “Grassroots Menomonee Falls Area firmly believes that such decisions should be made transparently, with proper respect for due process and with a commitment to upholding the expertise of the professionals involved in the educational system.”
School board members in Kenosha and Menomonee Falls did not respond to requests for comment about how their districts decide what books to pull.
Anna Kleiber is an arts editor for The Daily Cardinal. She also reports on state politics and campus news. Follow her on Twitter at @annakleiber03.