(NEXSTAR) — During the last school year, there were at least eight instances of books being banned in Colorado.
That’s according to PEN America, a nonprofit freedom of expression advocacy group, that tracks book challenges and bans in the U.S. This data was tracked between July 2022 and June 2023.
Though Colorado’s total trails far behind Florida’s staggering 1,400 book ban cases during the same time, controversy over books isn’t non-existent in the state.
Between Jan. 1 and August 31, 2023, the American Library Association‘s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked eight attempts to restrict access to books in Colorado — and about 130 books were challenged in that time.
As of last year, the most banned/challenged book in Colorado is Maia Kobabe’s 2019 graphic memoir “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” ALA reports. Reasons given for the book’s challenges include claims that it’s sexually explicit and complaints that it shows LGBTQIA+ content.
It was the most challenged title nationwide in 2022, the ALA says. It was the fifth-most banned for the 2022-23 school year, PEN America reports. In 2021, it was the most challenged graphic novel.
Early last year, “Gender Queer” received pushback from a parent in Adams 12 Five Star Schools, who compared it to pornography because of explicit drawings of sexual acts between two characters in the story. The book, however, was not in any of the school district’s libraries.
“Gender Queer” has been at the center of other controversies. A Michigan library that refused to remove the book, and other LGBTQ+ titles, from its shelves was defunded by its residents. An Iowa library had to temporarily close after multiple staff resigned over challenges to LGBTQ+ books like “Gender Queer.”
Kobabe has spoken out about the bans, writing in a 2021 opinion piece for the Washington Post, “Removing or restricting queer books in libraries and schools is like cutting a lifeline for queer youth, who might not yet even know what terms to ask Google to find out more about their own identities, bodies and health.”
Other widely challenged LGBTQ+ titles include “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, and the graphic novel “Flamer” by Mike Curato.
PEN America explains that “overwhelmingly,” these book bans target books on race/racism and feature characters of color, in addition to LGBTQ+ characters. The vast majority of these titles were also written by authors of color or who identify as LGBTQ+.
The crusade against these types of titles and authors is something “Flamer” author Curato — whose young adult book is among the most banned books in the U.S. — previously told Nexstar is “very politically motivated.”
The political motivation for book banning is something PEN America notes in its most recent reporting, saying that bad actors using “hyperbolic and misleading rhetoric” increasingly give the public the impression that “sexually explicit” material is being forced upon students in schools. In reality, the vast majority of books being challenged are (or were) only available as options for students to check out from school library collections.
Curato, whose graphic novel is aimed at ages 14-18, said he agreed this kind of obfuscation is intentional.
“One thing that book banners are doing is making people think that my young adult book is being shared in elementary schools. This is a book for teenagers about teenage life and teenage situations,” says Curato. “And it’s an honest book. But there’s nothing worse than what you’d find in a Judy Blume book.”