Alabama flags children’s book for censorship because author’s name is ‘Gay’

A children’s book has been flagged for censorship by Alabama officials – because the author’s surname is “Gay”.

The book, Read Me a Story Stella by Marie-Louise Gay, was placed under review at the Harris County Public Library due to its “sexually explicit” nature, reported.

But the story has no sexual content, and is in fact about a brother called Sam and sister called Stella reading books together as they spend the day building a fort.

Harris County Public Library executive director, Cindy Hewitt, said that the book was incorrectly put on its list of books under review because the author’s name “Gay” triggered a keyword in the facility’s system.

“Obviously, we’re not going to touch that book for any reason,” Ms Hewitt said.

Kristen Brassard, Ms Gay’s publicist at Groundwork Books, branded the saga “laughable”.

“Although it is obviously laughable that our picture book shows up on their list of censored books simply because the author’s last name is Gay, the ridiculousness of that fact should not detract from the seriousness of the situation,” she said in a statement.

Ms Gay’s book was one of hundreds of titles put under review after 233 books at the library were flagged by the HCPL for containing the words “sexuality, gender, sex, and dating”.

Other books placed on the list include “A quick & easy guide to they/them pronouns,” “A quick & easy guide to queer & trans identities,” and “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, a book depicting the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager at the hands of police.

The review was based on a list of 102 books compiled by Clean Up Alabama of books containing what it claims to be “sexually explicit” material in libraries around the state, Ms Hewitt said. However, Read Me a Story, Stella was not on that list.

Following criticism that the list targeted the LGBT+ community, the review process was halted.

“We wanted to be proactive and allow our library staff to look at our collection and make decisions about moving material to an older age group and not have someone from outside dictating that for us,” Ms Hewitt said.

An Alabama children’s book was flagged for censorship because the author’s surname is ‘Gay’ (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
An Alabama children’s book was flagged for censorship because the author’s surname is ‘Gay’ (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Librarians have now moved some of the books to the adult section, while some have not been re-catalogued.

Ms Hewitt insisted that the HCPL was “never eliminating any book” but Ms Brassard said the review process was designed to send a message to children that some ideas are “not worthy” of consideration.

“This proves, as always, that censorship is never about limiting access to this book or that one. It is about sending the message to children that certain ideas – or even certain people – are not worthy of discussion or acknowledgement or consideration,” she said.

It comes as a new wave of book bans is sweeping across the United States. A GOP-backed “sensitive materials” law was passed two years ago requiring school districts to create new pathways for residents to challenge “sensitive materials”.

Since then, libraries and schools in states across the country have seen books banned for their “sexually explicit material”.

In April, Republican lawmakers in Missouri threatened to defund public libraries in retaliation for the ACLU filing a lawsuit against a recent ban on educators “providing sexually explicit material”.

Similarly, Florida recently began removing “pornographic, violent or inappropriate” books from classrooms after sweeping laws passed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.

One such law, passed by Mr DeSantis in March last year, requires a certified media specialist to evaluate all books available in classrooms and libraries and punishes teachers with felony charges if non-sanctioned books are present in classrooms. That has led to teachers stripping their classroom shelves of books in fear of being prosecuted.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, the “Age Appropriate Materials Act” mandates schools to catalogue all titles in their classroom lest they include any inappropriate content.

There were at least 1,477 attempts to ban 874 individual book titles within the first half of the 2022-2023 school year, according to PEN America.

The figures mark a nearly 30 per cent spike from book challenges over the previous year.