Why they come for books

I had the great honour of delivering the closing remarks at this year’s Scottish Youth Publishers conference in Edinburgh, stepping into shoes previously worn by Denise Mina, Douglas Stuart and Nicola Sturgeon. My talk was about what I dubbed the four Ps of publishing: possibility, personality, power and people, and I’d like to share a short extract where I talk about the people removing books from libraries in the US and the people – including elected politicians and the right-wing press – wanting to do the same in the UK and in Ireland.

[in the era of Section 28] Books about people like me, the LGBT+, were banned in school libraries and nowhere to be found in my local library. People in power genuinely believed that if they could just starve us of information, if they could remove our representation, they could stop us being ourselves. It didn’t work, of course, and it did untold damage to a generation of us. And there are moves to try and make that particularly horrible history repeat.

Of the top 10 most banned books in the US last year, four were by and/or about LGBT+ people; the most banned, Gender Queer, was a trans memoir just like mine. 

This is not just an American problem. Last summer, a senior girls’ school in London censored sections of Understanding The Modern World, a GCSE history resource, to remove all references to gay people in a section about the Nazis’ genocidal policies; another school, also in London, cancelled a planned visit by gay author Simon James Green on World Book Day because the event promoted a “lifestyle choice” that had “no place” in a Catholic school.

We have US-style pressure groups here in Scotland campaigning against what they call “sickening sex lessons” in schools, lessons that dare to tell kids what the parts of their body are called; in England, the same lurid claims of “extreme” sex education are being made by elected MPs in parliament as well as in the pages of the right-wing press.

…The Times, The Telegraph and the Daily Mail are currently campaigning against books in school libraries that mention LGBT+ people. Just two weeks ago, the Daily Mail ran a double-page spread – “Do YOU know what’s in your child’s school library?” – claiming that “violent and pornographic sex education books are available to 10-year-olds”. The accompanying photo strongly suggested that those books were two trans memoirs, Gender Queer and Beyond Magenta. 

There’s a reason the bad guys want to ban or burn books. They don’t want us to know who we are, to know that we are not alone, to have others empathise with us.