Author Juno Dawson speaks out against the banning of her book, “This Book Is Gay”
British author Juno Dawson’s guide for LGBT young people, titled “This Book Is Gay,” has become one of the most banned books in the United States. In the past two years, the book has been restricted in numerous schools and libraries across different states, sparking a heated debate that has even led to threats of violence against educational institutions.
Dawson, who is transgender, wrote the book over a decade ago as an uncontroversial guide to help LGBT individuals understand their lives. The book covers various topics, including identity, coming out, and discrimination, while maintaining a humorous tone. Although it received positive reviews upon its release in the UK in 2014, its reception in the US has been far more contentious.
The controversy surrounding the book has escalated to the point of violence, with some librarians and teachers opposing the bans. There have been instances of incitements to violence, including a bomb threat in New York. Dawson herself has faced online abuse and harassment, forcing her to leave Twitter. She describes the situation as a form of “cultural terrorism” and expresses her sadness at the increasing difficulties faced by people in the LGBT community.
Prejudice and Misinformation
Dawson firmly believes that the book banning is driven by prejudice against LGBT individuals. She questions why the representation of straight couples in picture books is accepted while the representation of gay and lesbian couples is met with opposition. She notes that derogatory terms such as “groomer” and “paedophile” are being used to describe those who challenge the bans, reminiscent of the rhetoric during the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s.
A report by PEN America last year documented over 2,500 instances of book bannings, with nearly half of the targeted books explicitly addressing LGBT themes. Dawson attributes the recent surge in book banning to the changing political landscape in the United States, specifically the influence of right-wing groups attempting to assert themselves.
Threats to Freedom of Speech
Dawson warns against complacency in other countries, including the UK, regarding freedom of speech. She cites the case of author Simon James Green being disinvited from speaking at a school and her own experience of facing challenges from parents upset about her speaking engagements. Despite progress in recent years, Dawson believes that the recent book bannings indicate that there is still a long way to go in terms of acceptance and understanding of the LGBT community.
She dismisses the effectiveness of book banning, noting that books are difficult to fully restrict. Instead, bans often result in unintended consequences, such as increased interest and popularity. Furthermore, in the age of the internet, book banning does little to limit young people’s access to information. Dawson poses the question of whether it is better for young queer individuals to have access to a resource like “This Book Is Gay” or potentially stumble upon explicit content online.
Debate on Freedom of Speech
Dawson offers an interesting perspective on the freedom of speech debate, suggesting that some individuals argue in bad faith to avoid the consequences of their words. She distinguishes between informative books like hers and abusive or hateful speech. She emphasizes the need for schools to support and provide appropriate resources for young people, who are increasingly knowledgeable about issues of identity.
Despite facing challenges and bans, Dawson remains determined to defend her early work and advocate for progress. She highlights that the current generation has grown up with greater awareness and understanding of identity, and schools play a crucial role in supporting them.