Steve Martin, known for his diverse talents, recently celebrated an unexpected honor: his 2000 novel “Shopgirl” being banned in Collier County, Florida. In an Instagram post, the actor expressed his amusement, stating, “So proud to have my book Shopgirl banned in Collier County, Florida! Now people who want to read it will have to buy a copy!”
This banning was part of a larger action by the Collier County Public School District, which removed over 300 books from their shelves. The removals were carried out under Florida’s HB 1069, a law signed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, expanding the reach of the state’s controversial Parental Rights in Education Act, known as the Don’t Say Gay law. HB 1069 not only widened the law’s ban on discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in grade schools but also increased school board control over library collections. It allows parents in Florida to challenge books in school libraries, requiring contested titles to be withdrawn for review. Moreover, it specifies that content depicting or describing sexual conduct can be challenged.
Jonathan Friedman, the director of free expression and education programs at PEN America, noted that book challenges in schools and libraries across the United States have predominantly targeted works by Black and LGBTQ+ authors dealing with themes of race and LGBTQ+ issues. Collier County’s list of banned books included LGBTQ+ and LGBTQ+-adjacent titles, such as “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,” “They Both Die at the End,” “Two Boys Kissing,” and “The ABCs of LGBT+.”
The banning extended beyond LGBTQ+ literature, encompassing classics that have been a part of school libraries for generations. Books like Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22,” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” shared space on the list with works by T.H. White, Kurt Vonnegut, and Flannery O’Connor. While Steve Martin saw humor in the situation, parents and advocates expressed concern about limiting students’ access to essential literature, with one parent remarking, “Ignorance doesn’t protect innocence; we are not protecting our children’s innocence by restricting them. We are just making them uneducated.” This controversy highlights the ongoing debate over censorship and its impact on education and inclusivity.