President Joe Biden’s commitment to appoint a “book ban coordinator” to combat anti-LGBTQ+ censorship nationwide, made over three months ago during Pride Month, remains unfulfilled. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights was tasked with selecting this coordinator to address the mounting threat posed by book bans on LGBTQ+- and racially-inclusive literature, which could potentially violate federal civil rights law.
Despite students returning to school, the awaited coordinator has yet to be named, sparking doubts about the administration’s dedication to this pledge. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre directed inquiries to the Education Department, which refrained from specifying a timeline for the appointment. Instead, a department spokesperson indicated that a senior official would step in to enforce federal civil rights laws against book bans while providing school districts with information, resources, and training to combat these bans.
The delay in appointing the coordinator has triggered concerns, particularly as school bans on LGBTQ+ books continue to surge. In the first half of the 2022-2023 school year, over 1,477 instances of book bans affected 874 unique titles. These bans, often championed by Republican politicians, conservative school boards, and “parents’ rights” groups, have targeted content they deem “woke,” “indoctrination,” or “age-inappropriate.” Alarmingly, PEN America reported that 98% of these bans failed to adhere to best practice guidelines outlined by the American Library Association and the National Coalition Against Censorship, possibly infringing upon First Amendment protections for free speech.
Moreover, the hostile climate surrounding LGBTQ+- and race-inclusive education has prompted self-censorship among teachers and librarians, as they sidestep discussing potentially contentious subjects. The delay in fulfilling the commitment to appoint a book ban coordinator underscores the pressing need for action to safeguard students’ civil rights and ensure their access to a diverse array of literature in schools.
Amid the mounting challenge of book bans and the growing specter of censorship, advocates continue to exert pressure on the Biden administration to honor its promise of combating anti-LGBTQ+ censorship in education, thereby securing students’ access to a wide spectrum of literature.