With queer-themed books on the chopping block, 3 local organizations come together to talk about it
Bloomington-Normal’s Pride Fest takes place on Saturday. But when the glitter settles, the work is not done.
On Monday, Aug. 15, all are invited to a virtual book club exploring three queer-themed titles threatened by censorship: Maia Kobabe’s memoir "Gender Queer," "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" by Alison Bechdel, and the Gender Cool book bundle.
The discussion is a joint effort between Bloomington Public Library, Prairie Pride Coalition and the Bloomington-Normal chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). The program starts at 7 p.m.
Prairie Pride Coalition president Dave Bentlin said gender identity is the LGBTQ+ issue people seem most focused on today, so it is perhaps unsurprising that these are the books on the chopping block.
“I think there are a lot of people who still struggle with the concept of someone wanting to transition to a different gender, or not classify themselves as a specific gender,” Bentlin said. “In all honesty, it’s hard for me to keep up with the language and a lot of the perspectives around gender identity. I understand them, but it’s a challenge. It’s a new frontier.”
Bentlin said Prairie Pride Coalition became interested in banned books when it became a hot topic at local school board meetings.
“I went to the Unit 5 school board meeting. One person who stood up in opposition to the 'Gender Queer' book read one short clip from that book,” he said. “I swear that if I would have walked up to that person and asked if she read the whole book, she would have said no.”
Bentlin said a book club offers an environment that is “not so filled with tension and controversy,” so people can “really look at these books, look at the stories that they’re telling and the young people that they’re helping.”
Of course, there’s a risk of self-selection bias at any event that engages in controversial topics. People who opt in for a discussion like this one likely already support the books. But Luke Wellman from PFLAG hopes that folks from all different points of view will attend.
“We would love if someone who has an open mind and may not quite understand, or may not be a huge fan of any of these banned books we’re going to talk about, comes to the discussion willing to listen,” said Wellman. “I think we would love if the whole group was that way, to a certain extent, because then we can get into the discussion after they’ve read the whole thing, to talk about what might be controversial in it.”
Wellman said there’s no “magic formula” to convincing people to participate in discussions such as the banned book talk. “And unfortunately, there are going to be some people in our community who we will never convince. It’s hard to accept that, yet we have to still work toward getting more people to realize the benefit.”
Adult services librarians Mimi Davis and Molly Stevenson of the Bloomington Public Library will moderate the virtual discussion. Bentlin said he has full confidence that if conflict arises, there are safeguards in place to maintain a respectful dialogue.
“I’d be more worried if we weren’t in such good hands,” he said.
To register for Bloomington Public Library’s Banned Book Talk, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The 7 p.m. discussion on Monday, Aug. 15, is virtual, free, and open to the public.