LGBTQ+ book bans are hitting California schools. How teachers can fight back

Three books in a pile
These three books with LGBTQ+ themes have been banned in some Florida counties.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The front lines of the culture war in public schools may be in Florida and Texas, but efforts to ban books have spread from coast to coast. According to the nonprofit PEN America advocacy group, school districts banned 1,477 books in the last half of 2022, raising the total to nearly 4,000 since July 2021.

The battle has come to California as well. For example, the Temecula Valley school board voted in May to reject a curriculum that included a social studies book because it mentioned slain San Francisco supervisor and LGBTQ+ activist Harvey Milk.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has railed against book bans, threatened to fine the district and send the banned textbooks directly to its students if the school board didn’t implement the textbooks by the start of the school year. The board reversed course shortly thereafter, agreeing to adopt the curriculum.


Temecula Valley has company, however. In 2022, the American Library Assn. reported 32 attempts to restrict access to books in California schools and public libraries, with 87 titles challenged in those attempts.

Many of the bans have targeted books that address race and discrimination, yet according to the library association, the most frequently banned titles are those with LGBTQ+ themes or references, as was the case in Temecula. Many, if not most, incidents of censorship go unreported.

If you’re an educator who encounters LGBTQ+ book bans or attempts to ban at your school, here’s what you need to know.

Are book bans harmful to a student’s education?

Kasey Meehan, Freedom to Read program director at PEN America, said that book bans and attempts to ban overwhelmingly affect LGBTQ+ identities, characters, stories and history being delivered in public schools.

“Books can be windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors for individuals to see themselves,” Meehan said. “Books can serve as a resource to gain more empathy, understanding and have a better sense of somebody who has a different lived experience.”

By removing books on certain topics, Meehan said, we not only affect those who identify with those topics, but also people with different identities and experiences. The books’ absence denies students the opportunity to learn in safe and valuable ways through school and the typical books used in schools.


What should you do when faced with attempts to ban books?

Library and LGBTQ+ advocates recommend that teachers get up to speed on the broader fight by reading LGBTQ+ books, identifying challenged content, and learning about legislative attempts across the country to restrict school books. Here are other steps they suggest:

  • Encourage parents and school board officials to read the books in question.
  • Talk with people challenging specific titles to understand their concerns and motivations. Counter misinformation and incorrect labeling of LGBTQ+ books.
  • Use the appeals process at your school or district to have the challenged book(s) reviewed by a committee.
  • Ensure the review committee includes students, parents, educators and potentially administrators.
  • Rally community members, parents, students and fellow educators against the book ban.
  • Voice your concerns at school board meetings or city council sessions. The American Library Assn.’s Unite Against Book Banks site has a guide to help you.
  • Recognize that local battles over book content are as significant as, if not more so than, federal or state-level developments.
  • Create a Banned Books Week event or lesson at your school. This year’s Banned Books Week takes place Oct. 1 to 7, and you can download promotional materials such as posters, fliers, shelf talkers and even trivia templates at the website dedicated to the event.
  • Educate students about the history of book censorship in the U.S. and efforts to censor inclusive learning in schools. The American Federation of Teachers, a national teachers union, offers lesson plans for this topic on its website.
  • Consult the Freedom to Read Foundation website for legal insights, advocacy strategies and community networks.
  • Stay informed about any developments related to the book ban and continue advocating for the inclusion of LGBTQ+ literature in educational settings.

Is there a way to report book bans?

Yes, at least four organizations are gathering information about bans and attempted bans. You can fill out the American Library Assn.’s book challenge reporting form; PEN America’s book ban reporting form; the National Coalition Against Censorship’s reporting form; and the National Council of Teachers of English censorship incident reporting form (which applies to a wide variety of censorship challenges).

What do you need to do to report a book ban?

  • Collect detailed information about the attempt, including the title of the book, the school or institution involved and the reasons cited for the ban.
  • Compile credible sources — such as news articles, official statements or social media posts — that provide evidence of the attempt.
  • Reach out to LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, such as GLAAD, Human Rights Campaign or local LGBTQ+ groups, and inform them about the situation.
  • Notify local and national media outlets about the book ban attempt, providing them with accurate and verified information.
  • Contact relevant education authorities, such as school boards, superintendents, state education departments and other relevant decision makers, and express your concerns.

How can the local public library help?

The Los Angeles Public Library’s systemwide collection comprises more than 106,000 LGBTQ+ books, constituting about 2.2% of the library’s holdings. Each of the library’s 72 branches hosts approximately 500 to 600 LGBTQ+ titles, with greater numbers available in neighborhoods such as Silver Lake or North Hollywood that have larger LGBTQ+ communities.

Edwin Rodarte, a senior librarian at the public library, explained that librarians adhere to their city’s collection policy with acquisitions based on criteria such as book quality, length and age group.

In line with this approach, librarians actively consult annual book lists published by the American Literature Assn. Rodarte said that through these curated selections, the library ensures a diverse and comprehensive representation of LGBTQ+ literature.


The library’s full collection is available to students, regardless of what their schools’ policies might be. Every Los Angeles Unified School District student is provided a student success card that allows them to take five books home without the threat of overdue charges.

Beyond that, Rodarte said the L.A. public library system has multiple ways to help schools facing LGBTQ+ book bans, including:

  • Educators can request virtual sets of LGBTQ+ ebooks that students can access in their classrooms. The library has about 44,000 LGBTQ+ ebooks.
  • Schools and teachers can request physical LGBTQ+ books for permanent or long-term use in their classrooms.
  • The library can establish a virtual library collection just for a school, giving its students first crack at those ebooks instead of requiring them to join a public queue.

“It’s important to have LGBTQ+ titles on the shelves because there are individuals that are really questioning these identities where that book can be a resource that they’re missing,” Rodarte said.

Where else can educators find LGBTQ+ books for their classroom or library?

  • GLSEN’s Rainbow Library program sends LGBTQ+ affirming text sets to schools across the country. Any full-time staff member at a district, magnet, charter or independent school is eligible to request a book set. Rainbow Library also offers a guide to LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum for educators.
  • The Pride and Less Prejudice campaign supplies free LGBTQ-inclusive books to classrooms from pre-K through third grade.
  • Hope in a Box provides public school educators with carefully curated sets of LGBTQ-inclusive literature, specialized curriculum for these books and community guidance for establishing LGBTQ-inclusive classrooms.