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Archive for the ‘Censorship Watch’ Category

Banned Books with Gay Content

It’s been hectic lately – getting ready to move, plus job-seeking, plus celebrating a milestone birthday with one of my best friends! – but I’ll get back to more regular writing some time soon. In the meantime, check out this list of banned and challenged books (old and new, fiction and non-fiction, written for all age levels) from Huffington Post – all books deemed objectionable by some because they deal with LGBT themes.

Why Pride?

in honour of Toronto Pride Week 2012

Sticker: "It's okay to be gay."

Image via Yujean Stickers.

I’ve had people ask me before, “Why do gay people get their own parade? Straight people don’t. Why do they have to make such a big thing of it?”

The answer is twofold: because it’s harder to discriminate against somebody you know, and because spirit in the face of oppression needs to be celebrated.

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Savage Attacks

Dan Savage

Photograph by 4Salcia, taken at the University of Western Ontario’s “It Gets Better” presentation.

The media is all in a frenzy about Dan Savage’s recent comments at a journalism conference, where he was speaking about his anti-bullying initiative, The “It Gets Better” Project, and his work as a spokesperson for the LGBT community. The story, in a nutshell: Dan Savage remarked on the parts of Leviticus most Christians ignore (like prohibitions on shellfish and menstrual intercourse), he used some profanity in referencing them, and a bunch of Christians in the audience staged a protest and walked out. Now the right-leaning, anti-gay community is lamenting that Savage is totally fine with bullying, as long as it’s Christians being bullied instead of gays.

“It’s amazing that we go to an anti-bullying speech and one group of students is picked on in particular, with harsh, profane language,” said high-school teacher Rick Tuttle, quoted on socially conservative LifeSite News. Commenters from the same site describe Savage as irrational, aberrant, depraved, fake, mentally ill, morally degenerate, pathetic, psychopathic, and blasphemous.

Now that’s a point that I feel like I need to challenge.

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The Family Shield: Grocery Store “Protects” Children from Seeing – Gasp! – Gay Dads

Magazine cover featuring Elton John's family censored by grocery store.

Image via Ear Sucker.

Full disclosure: I’ve loved Elton John forever. And when I learned he and his partner were welcoming a new addition to their family, I felt the same strange combination of envy and warm welcoming I usually feeling on hearing about another little child coming into the world. (I love babies.) It’s my genuine wish that, as Elton John once suggested in a favourite song of mine, little baby Zachary will be blessed.

But the poor little guy has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start in the United States.

It seems that a grocery store in Arkansas, prompted by a customer complaint, hid the US Weekly cover featuring the new family beneath a plastic “Family Shield”. This is not an implement designed to shield families; rather, it’s meant to conceal racy cover images on the kinds of magazines they usually kept hidden behind the counter in more innocent times. The kind of magazines that, once purchased, get stored under the mattress.

US weekly cover featuring Elton John and family.

Image via Too Fab.

Perplexed, I checked out the cover image as it appears under the shield, wondering what they possibly could’ve come up with that would cause such scandal. And sure enough, there was no scandal to be found. Just a couple of relatively ordinary guys smiling for the camera, posing with an adorable-but-ordinary baby. No nudity, no suggestive poses, no sex tips. Nothing to see here, folks. The same sort of thing you see every time a celebrity couple has a child, whether biological or adoptive.

Oh, right. Except Zachary’s got two daddies.

And in fact, it seems that was exactly what the customer complaint was about. That’s why Harps brought out the Family Shield. To shield sensitive young eyes from Zachary’s family.

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The Graphic Novel Rebellion!

Comic-book child: "Dots are cool, Daddy!"

Image via The Graphic Mag.

Graphic novels have gotten a bad rap in the past. Because so much of the content appears in picture form, they’ve been dismissed as “comic books” and consequently treated as unworthy, thoughtless, and juvenile forms of literature. Now librarians know that graphic novels, like any other form or genre, can be intelligent and thoughtful when done well. (I’ve blogged about this in the past.)

But that’s not the end of the hard struggle for graphic novels.

This edgy form of fiction often deals with some pretty heavy subject matter, which can involve violence, sexuality, or harsh language. And not everybody wants to find that at their local library. You’d think they could just press on and look for something more suited to their tastes, but apparently not: the ALA has released a list of the top ten graphic novels to be challenged, banned, or censored in American schools and libraries.

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Denying History

“Where everyone’s opinion is equal to everyone else’s opinion, no one’s opinion matters.”

Denying History by Michael Shermer & Alex Grobman

Image via Skeptic Magazine.

Title: Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It?

Author: Michael Shermer & Alex Grobman

Year of Publication: 2000

Genre Keywords: censorship, evidence, free speech, history, Holocaust, Holocaust denial, ideology, logic, Nazism, neo-Nazism, scholarship, skepticism.

Summary: A smart and readable book about the phenomenon of modern Holocaust denial, written by two authors committed to the accurate understanding and portrayal of history. They begin by warning against silencing the people who deny that the Holocaust took place – instead, they argue persuasively, it’s best to place the beliefs of Holocaust deniers under a microscope, to seek flaws in logic and ideological motivations. There is a factual truth in history, and only by exposing the truth can we defeat the lies and misrepresentations of deniers.

Shermer and Grobman then go on to discuss the Holocaust denial movement’s ideological underpinnings – who says the Holocaust never happened and why they say it. (They also go into how Holocaust deniers use logical fallacies and twist the evidence to suit their purposes by outlining the deniers’ main arguments.) Then they go into the historical evidence to examine the major tenets of Holocaust denial: the ideas that concentration camps were not used for extermination, that the extermination of Jews was not a part of Hitler’s plan, and that the number exterminated was less than six million or even one million. As most of us would probably expect, they find that the majority of evidence disproves the deniers’ claims.

Who’ll Love It: Any readers concerned with the Holocaust have probably already decided they want to read this book. But more broadly, those interested in truth and misinformation – and how people with an agenda can manipulate the truth to spread bad information – should definitely look at this.

A Question for Librarians: The issue of free speech in this case is complicated enough that Shermer & Grobman could have written the entire book on just that question alone. It’s an issue that arises in library studies as well. Most of us agree with the authors’ persuasive point that misinformation is best defeated by an honest, careful study of the evidence, not by censoring deniers’ views. After all, censorship gives their ideas a power they don’t deserve. But on the other hand, would you put Holocaust deniers’ books on the shelves of your library? Would you give them a platform? And if they argued that your refusal to make their ideas accessible amounted to a form of passive censorship, what would you say?

Too Much Information: When Veterans Tell the Truth

Charles Whittington, Iraq veteran.

Image via The Towerlight.

It is not like I have a switch I can just turn off. To this day, I still feel the addictions running through my blood and throughout my body, but now I know how to keep myself composed and keep order in myself, my mind.

These are the words of Iraq veteran Charles Whittington. And he’s not talking about the addictions you might think about when you hear the word – drugs, drink, even sex or gambling. He’s talking about an addiction to killing, an addiction to violence that he brought back from his tour of duty.

You can read his entire essay, originally written for a college course, at the Baltimore Sun’s website. The instructor who graded it urged him to seek publication because she found it so compelling. But he won’t be writing any more such essays for his course at the Community College of Baltimore County, because Charles Whittington’s words got him kicked out of school.

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