Woman fights anti-LGBTQ+ book bans by sending queer books to red states

Woman fights anti-LGBTQ+ book bans by sending queer books to red states

In San Francisco’s Castro District, a one-woman army is battling book bans — with books.

In May 2023, Becka Robbins decided the best way to fight back against the unprecedented onslaught of book bans was to get those banned books into the hands of the people being denied access.

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One protestor who called himself “Rainbow Spartacus” wore a rainbow-colored Roman soldier outfit and a rainbow cape.

She set up shop in a small room at the back of Fabulosa Books in the Castro and established her “Books Not Bans” program which sends banned books out to community centers, schools, and individuals across the country. The program has taken off with the help of customer donations.

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“The book bans are awful, the attempt at erasure,” Robbins told the Associated Press.

Robbins has sent out 740 books so far to states including Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, and Alabama. Enthusiastic supporters are including notes of support with their donations, she said.

Over 40% of all book bans in the 2022-23 school year were in Florida, followed by Texas and Missouri, according to the free-speech and anti-censorship organization PEN America.

Approximately 86% of book bans were instigated by groups like Moms for Liberty, which has provided book lists to chapter members across the country, singling out the same titles over and over again.

Those include Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer, George Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue, and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, among others.

PEN America says 30% of all book bans have targeted titles with LGBTQ+ characters or themes, while 30% have targeted books with characters of color or discussions of race and racism.

Nearly 40% of the bans sought by Moms for Liberty have targeted LGBTQ+ identity, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

Jason DeShazo, a drag queen performer known as Momma Ashley Rose, runs the LGBTQ+ community center in Lakeland, Florida and is one of the “Books Not Bans” recent recipients. He said the books from Robbins are already on shelves.

“I don’t think a person of color should have to search so hard for an amazing book about history of what our Black community has gone through,” DeShazo said. “Or for someone who is queer to find a book that represents them.”

For Robbins, those include queer young adult romances, which she called a rapidly growing genre in the face of Moms for Liberty and other anti-LGBTQ+ forces trying to erase queer identity.

“The characters are just like regular kids — regular people who are also queer, but they also get to fall in love and be happy,” Robbins said.

“Fiction teaches us how to dream,” Robbins added. “It teaches us how to connect with people who are not like ourselves. It teaches us how to listen and empathize.”

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