LGBTQ+ content drove book banning efforts in 2023

The latest American Library Association report marks the start of National Library Week

The top 10 most-targeted book titles, according to the American Library Association, in order of the number of challenges from left to right: Gender Queer, All Boys Aren't Blue, This Book Is Gay, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Flamer, The Bluest Eye, Tricks, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Let’s Talk About It, and Sold.
The top 10 most-targeted book titles, according to the American Library Association.

National Library Week began Monday and with that, the American Library Association (ALA) released its annual list of the top 10 most targeted books of the past year. According to the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, a majority of the books were challenged due to LGBTQ+ content with racial issues being a second reason for bans. The ALA noted an all-time high number of challenged titles: 4,240.

The American Library Association has charted the trajectory of book bans for over two decades. The organization collects and collates data from book challenges that library professionals report to the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom along with data culled from news reports throughout the country from challenges to library, school and university materials and services. But as the group itself acknowledges, there could be many more books being challenged and banned which have not been reported to the ALA.

In 2023, 4,240 individual titles were targeted for bans from libraries. That number far exceeded the 2,571 titles banned in 2022, according to a report last month from the ALA. As the New York Times has chronicled since 2022, “challenges to books about sexual and racial identity are nothing new in American schools, but the tactics and politicization are.”

As ALA president Emily Drabinski told the Times after the ALA released their report in March, “I wake up every morning hoping this is over. What I find striking is that this is still happening, and it’s happening with more intensity.”

The “this” Drabinski is referencing is the rise of local and national groups like Moms for Liberty, Citizens Defending Freedom, and Parents’ Rights in Education. The reach of these groups is constantly expanding and pivots off the “parental rights” movement, a predominantly anti-LGBTQ+ movement among conservatives. Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy all spoke at the Moms for Liberty conference on July 4th weekend in Philadelphia. Exemplifying how impactful these groups have become and the breadth of their reach is the growth of Moms for Liberty. Founded in Florida in 2021, the group now has 284 chapters in 44 states. There were 729 challenges and 1,858 unique titles in 2021, so the rise is exponential.

What began as part of an anti-LGBTQ “culture war” battle in public schools has now — promulgated by these groups — expanded to public libraries, which has alarmed both librarians and the ALA. In their 18-page report on the state of America’s libraries, the ALA cites stunning statistics.

The number of books challenged in libraries across the U.S. in 2023 spiked 65% over the previous year, according to the ALA. Book challenges at public libraries rose by 92% in 2023 compared to the previous year, totaling 1,761 individual titles. In school libraries, challenges rose by 11%.

In her introduction to the report, Drabinski states: “These are not ordinary times. The unprecedented wave of organized censorship intensifies, particularly in our public libraries. Adverse legislation that would undermine librarian agency and authority is getting a hearing in legislatures across the country.”

But there is increasing motivation from the right — and concomitant legal action by GOP legislators — to control what kids and young adults read by dictating which books can be seen and accessed by students. A challenge to “inappropriate” content can be enough to get books removed from the shelves. As PGN has previously reported, high-profile Republicans like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin have all asserted that books are being used as “indoctrination” materials with regard to sexual orientation, gender identity and discourse on race and racism.

The drive to ban these books has been seen throughout the Philadelphia area, and suburban counties. An effort to elect conservatives to school boards has influenced book bans. And small groups can collectively call for censorship of multiple titles — often dozens at a time. The ALA says that these actions have driven the rise in book challenges.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, who heads the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF), said, “Demands to censor library books, programs, and displays have resulted in the removal or restriction of untold numbers of diverse books in school and public libraries, denying students and library users alike the opportunity to read books that raise important issues, challenge the status quo, and lift up the voices of those who are often under-represented on library shelves.”

Caldwell-Stone also said, “Half of all challenges reported to OIF were challenges to titles recommended for censorship by websites maintained by these same organized pressure groups, whose lists of ‘bad books’ disproportionately target those books reflecting the voices and lived experiences of those who are LGBTQIA+, Black, Indigenous, or persons of color.”

The targeted books

The top ten list is led for the third year in a row by “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe. The memoir, in graphic novel format, delves into Kobabe’s experiences with being nonbinary and asexual. Also among the top ten is the classic 1970 novel “The Bluest Eye” by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, which focuses on racism and childhood trauma, but also has discussion of child molestation and incest.

The most-targeted titles, in order of the number of challenges, are:

1. “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, for LGBTQ+ content claimed to be sexually explicit

2. “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” by George M. Johnson, for LGBTQ+ content and claims of sexually explicit content

3. “This Book is Gay,” by Juno Dawson, for LGBTQ+ content, sex education, and claims of sexually explicit content

4. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky, for LGBTQ+ content, rape, drugs, profanity and claims of sexually explicit content

5. “Flamer,” by Mike Curato, for LGBTQ+ content and claims of sexually explicit content

6. “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, for EDI content and content about rape and incest claimed to be sexually explicit

7/8 (tie). “Tricks” by Ellen Hopkins, for LGBTQ content, themes concerning drugs, rape and claims of sexually explicit content

7/8 (tie). “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews, for claims of sexually explicit content

9. “Let’s Talk About It,” by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan, for LGBTQ+ content, sex education and claims of sexually explicit content

10. “Sold,” by Patricia McCormick, for claims of sexually explicit content and themes concerning rape

The threats to the freedom to read

Caldwell-Stone said the issues involved in this censorship purge go beyond the banning of books themselves. She said, “The threats to the freedom to read in 2023 were not simply threats to deny access to books. Many brave and committed library workers faced loss of their jobs for defending the freedom to read.”

She added that like political strife division nationally, attacks on books have taken on threats to workers themselves. “Reports filed with OIF documented an alarming number of threats directed at libraries and library workers,” she said. “These threats included calls to close or defund libraries, attempts to criminally prosecute librarians and teachers for providing books and library resources to minors, and even bomb threats that closed down libraries and schools.”

In announcing the top 10 list, Drabinski put the challenges in succinct perspective, “At ALA, we are fighting for the freedom to choose what you want to read.” 

Drabinski added, “Shining a light on the harmful workings of these pressure groups is one of the actions we must take to protect our right to read.”

Read the full report at

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